SAR dealers linked to ivory smuggling revival

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 November, 2002, 12:00am

A group of Hong Kong-based dealers are behind a resurgence of the illegal ivory trade in East Asia, according to a report by an influential international environmental group.

The 26-page report, 'Back in Business', compiled by the Environmental Investigation Agency, claims analysis of business registers and shipping records shows that a smuggling network 'is controlled by a group of shadowy Hong Kong-based ivory dealers, active in the business since the mid-1980s'.

But an endangered species protection officer working for the government, Boris Kwan Sai-ping, disagreed that there was such a syndicate. He said there had been only two significant cases in the past 10 years apart from a significant seizure of contraband tusks last month.

The agency report was tabled at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species being held in Santiago, Chile.

The convention opened a week ago and closes on Friday. The agency is a non-profit-making environmental group based in London and Washington that has been monitoring the illegal ivory trade since the late 1980s.

Last month, the Sunday Morning Post reported that Hong Kong should brace itself for a renewed influx of smuggled ivory because of burgeoning demand for elephant tusks on the mainland.

The latest warning from environmentalists came after Hong Kong Customs last month made their biggest seizure of contraband tusks in 10 years - 81 tusks weighing 506kg and worth $5 million.

The 'Back in Business' report said investigations by the agency revealed that a seizure of ivory in Singapore in June - the largest in the world since an international ban was imposed in 1989 - was not an isolated incident.

It said it was one of many such shipments made by a well-organised ivory smuggling syndicate that had operated with impunity since 1994.

On June 27, Singapore authorities found 532 elephant tusks and more than 40,000 blank ivory hankos (traditional Japanese name seals) tightly packed into six wooden crates from a cargo ship.

The 6.2 tonne shipment was listed as stone sculptures from a company in Lilongwe, Malawi, and addressed to a company in Singapore.

'The seizure in Singapore lifted the lid on a well-organised ivory smuggling network that had been operating undetected since the mid-1990s, and which had successfully shipped huge amounts of ivory from southern Africa, much of it from Zambia, to China and Japan,' said agency chairman Allan Thornton.

The report said the syndicate had successfully smuggled tonnes of illegal poached ivory from Africa to East Asia, with the Singapore seizure marking its first operational setback.

Of the 19 suspected ivory shipments from the syndicate since 1994, 15 were destined for Singapore and four were headed for Guangzhou.

'In order to operate undetected for so long the smuggling network used a series of pseudonyms, fake companies and false trails to cover its tracks,' the report said. 'While there have been arrests connected with the syndicate in Malawi, the key instigators remain at large, free to enjoy the profit from their illicit activities and removed from the corruption and violence that ivory poaching continues to fuel in many parts of Africa,' the report said.

It said Hong Kong has historically played a pivotal role in the trade but recent investigations by the agency indicated the domestic ivory industry was in steady decline.

'Hong Kong-based traders remain central to the ivory black market,' the report said, adding the mastermind behind the syndicate exposed by the Singapore seizure was based in Hong Kong.

'His real identity remains a mystery, obscured by an array of fake names and addresses.

'However, documents gathered during the course of the agency's investigations reveal the names Peter Onn, Peter S. Wang, Y.C. Wong, and Wang Yong-shi, all pseudonyms for the same person.

'What is certain is that this individual operates out of Hong Kong - as revealed by contact numbers and an address for the receipt of shipping bills - and has travelled to Lilongwe on at least six occasions to facilitate the shipment of ivory.

'His involvement in Singapore is illustrative of a move by a group of Hong Kong ivory traders and craftsmen to expand into Singapore from the mid-1980s to take advantage of loopholes in the regulations governing the legal ivory trade.'