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Crime in Hong Kong

Man who illegally brought 6kg of rhino horn and ivory into Hong Kong has jail sentence doubled to 4 months

Chinese businessman Liu Xin’s sentence first to be reviewed since city toughened penalties for unlawful wildlife trade

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 July, 2018, 9:28pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2018, 6:55pm

A businessman convicted of illegally bringing rhino horn and ivory into Hong Kong from South Africa had his jail term doubled to four months on Friday in the first sentence review conducted since the city toughened penalties for unlawful wildlife trade.

Defendant Liu Xin, a Chinese businessman, was originally scheduled to be released on Monday after being sentenced to two months in jail in early June for flying to the city from Johannesburg with 5.9kg of rhino horn and 410 grams of ivory with a value of HK$1.2 million (US$153,800).

But prosecutors called for a sentence review after the penalties for offences under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance were increased to a maximum fine of HK$10 million and 10 years’ imprisonment on May 1.

Previously, the maximum penalty was HK$5 million and two years’ jail.

Acting senior assistant director of public prosecutions Franco Kuan asked the court to increase the starting point for Liu’s sentence to 12 months and for a fine to be imposed.

Liu appealed for a lighter sentence, noting that both his parents were in their 70s and of poor health.

“I am very regretful,” he added.

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Magistrate Edward Wong Ching-yu handed down a sentence of four months after taking into consideration factors including the defendant’s guilty plea and the case being the first since the penalties were amended.

Wong added that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department’s failure to provide updated information related to the case and Liu’s scheduled release in under three days also contributed to the decision.

He stressed that had it not been for the special circumstances of Liu’s case, the court could have added a fine but because of the longer sentence, it would be unfair to do so.

He added that had the case moved to the District Court, the sentencing could go up to seven years. Magistrates can hand down sentences of up to two years only.

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A department spokeswoman said: “Generally, the choice of venue of trial is dependent on the complexity of the cases and the likely sentence to be imposed. AFCD will make reference to this case and work closely with the Department of Justice on the appropriate venue for trials of similar cases in future.”

But Lisa Genasci, CEO of ADM Capital Foundation, a wildlife trafficking concern group, said that while it appreciated the review, wildlife criminal cases should be handled by higher courts for a bigger penalty.

“The quantity of wildlife products moving through Hong Kong damages our image internationally,” she said. “The sentence of four months doesn’t reflect the fact that rhinos are disappearing from Africa at a rate of 1,000 per year and could be gone within our lifetime.”