Seattle grand jury indicts two Congolese men for allegedly smuggling poached ivory, rare white rhino horns

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Two DRC foreigners were arrested outside Seattle last week and charged by a federal grand jury with conspiracy and money laundering for allegedly smuggling elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns into the United States.

Herdade Lokua, 23, and his cousin, 31-year-old Jospin Mujangi, both from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), are accused of working with a middleman – referred to in the indictment as “Unindicted Co -” on 11 counts. Conspirators “- to facilitate four deliveries of the poached items to Seattle in August, September, and May of last year, according to court documents.

Both men arrived in Washington on November 2 to negotiate additional shipments of prohibited animal parts and were arrested in Edmonds, according to Homeland Security officials. She appeared in the U.S. District Court on Thursday, pleading guilty of guilty of conspiracy, money laundering, smuggling and violating the Lacey Act, which prohibits false records being made in interstate or overseas trade.

The indictment alleges that the shipments violate the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty between 183 nations, including the United States, to protect plants and animals in danger of extinction.

Both men were held pending further hearings. January 10th was set as the trial date.

Officials said Washington has been a hub for smuggling illegal animal parts, in part because of its location as a travel hub on the west coast and its proximity to Asia, where these items are in high demand.

The indictment alleges that the men facilitated the smuggling of four packages containing a total of 49 pounds of ivory from threatened African elephants and five pounds of horn from the African white rhinoceros, also listed as an endangered species. According to the indictment, they were paid $ 14,500 by an undercover Homeland Security agent for the ivory and an additional $ 18,000 for the rhinoceros horn.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, other ivory, rhinoceros horns and pangolin scales worth $ 3.5 million were seized in the Congo. The two men are said to have been in talks to smuggle pangolin scales into the United States, the indictment said.

According to the indictment, the ivory – which was intended for decorative carving – was cut into rectangular pieces, painted black, and hidden in an ebony shipment with a manifest saying it was valued at $ 60.

The indictment alleges that Lokua offered to ship larger ivory shipments hidden in sea container loads of bulk rubber. Lokua reportedly told the unproved co-conspirator that he could also send larger shipments of ivory, rhinoceros horn and scales from pangolin, a nocturnal mammal also known as the scaly anteater.

The men were arrested when they arrived in Washington to negotiate the deal, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

David Yost, a spokesman for the DHS Seattle office, said the rhinoceros horn is for “medical purposes.” The US Fish and Wildlife Service reports that rhinoceros horn is used in traditional Chinese medicine for a variety of purposes, including lowering fevers and relieving gout symptoms.

The conspirators also discussed importing large quantities of pangolin scales. According to the indictment, pangolins are considered the most trafficked animal in the world because their keratin scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Their meat is considered a delicacy in some cultures.

The co-conspirator agreed to buy about 55 pounds of pangolin scales to be hidden in a shipment of wood chips, but the shipment was never made, according to the indictment. The prosecution alleges there have been discussions about smuggling up to 1,100 pounds of sheds from sheds into the United States in exchange for $ 30,000 in cash.

The prosecution alleges that during the smuggling operation, African customs officials in Kinsasha, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were bribed.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/seattle-grand-jury-indicts-two-congolese-men-for-allegedly-smuggling-poached-ivory-rare-white-rhino-horns/