Jail term and fines for smugglers 'too lenient'
Wildlife conservationists slammed a four-month jail term and fines of up to HK$80,000 for five ivory smugglers from the mainland as "too lenient", saying it will do little to stop the illicit trade.
"It is way too lenient because Chinese people buying illicit ivory in Africa know that if they are caught, at most they will just lose the ivory and get a puny fine," said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Since 2004, there have been 61 prosecutions against the illegal import of ivory by air passengers. Sentences ranged from two to eight months' imprisonment or a fine of HK$2,500 to HK$80,000.
Earlier this month, 14 people were arrested at Chek Lap Kok airport after Customs seized 160kg of ivory tusks and carved ivory pieces in their checked-in baggage. The travellers were on three flights from Dubai and Johannesburg. Seven of the accused - all from the mainland - faced Tsuen Wan Court last week, with five convictions. Two cases are still pending.
Yin Qun, 40, was jailed for four months for smuggling 48.4kg of worked ivory; Zeng Hongzhen, 29, was fined HK$30,000 for smuggling 11.26kg; and Zeng Hongjin, 24, got a HK$50,000 fine for smuggling 23.17kg. Two others, whose names are unknown, were fined HK$30,000 for smuggling 12.17 kg and HK$80,000 for smuggling 9.5kg. Xu Bin, 24, and Xu Kaiyi, 25 pleaded not guilty and will face trial next month.
The other seven travellers are still under investigation.
Gabriel said the high-profit and low-risk nature of the illicit ivory trade made it attractive to criminal gangs. "Unless the penalties are raised, it is not going to have a deterrent effect," she said.
Tom Milliken, of the wildlife group Traffic, said while he welcomed the jail term as a deterrent, fines could be written off as "the price of doing business".