Chinese ivory smugglers fined just US$340

Judge calls for new laws after four are seized with haul worth thousands

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 4:21am


Four Chinese men who pleaded guilty in a Kenyan court to smuggling thousands of dollars worth of ivory were yesterday fined just US$340 each.

During sentencing in Nairobi, Magistrate Timothy Okello regretted the defendants' crime "is still considered a petty offence" and called for Kenyan laws "to be amended to reflect the gravity of such matters".

The four men were arrested on Sunday carrying ivory products including chopsticks, necklaces and bracelets, as well as two pieces of raw ivory weighing 9.6 kilograms.

The raw ivory alone had an estimated black market value of US$24,000 in Asia, said Patrick Omondi, of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

The smugglers - Qu Rongjun, Liu Xuefeng, Gu Guisheng and Wang Chengbang - were stopped in Kenya while in transit from Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo to Guangzhou airport.

Speaking through an interpreter, they pleaded for leniency and said they were unaware that it was illegal to carry ivory through Kenya.

Gu Guisheng told the court: "I am very sorry to have committed this offence. We were given these items as gifts by friends in Congo after we had come to the end of our contracts."

If they fail to pay the fine they face up to six-and-a-half years in jail. Poaching has spiked recently in East Africa. Earlier this month officials in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa seized more than two tonnes of ivory, which had reportedly come from Tanzania and was destined for Indonesia.

The illegal ivory trade is mostly fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns are used to make ornaments and in traditional medicine.

Trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after elephant populations in Africa dwindled from millions in the mid-20th century to about 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.