NEW YORK – On Wednesday, Qiang Wang, a/k/a Jeffrey Wang, a New York antiques dealer, pleaded guilty in federal court in New York City to conspiracy to smuggle Asian artifacts made from rhinoceros horns and ivory and violate wildlife trafficking laws, announced Robert G. Dreher, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wang was arrested in February 2013 as part of “Operation Crash,” a nation-wide crackdown in the illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns, for his role in smuggling libation cups carved from rhinoceros horns from New York to Hong Kong and China. He pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the Southern District of New York.
“Wang and others conspired in an illegal trade that is threatening the future of these species,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Dreher. “This prosecution and continuing investigation should send a clear message to buyers and sellers that we will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who are involved in this devastating trade.”
“Today’s guilty plea ensures that Qiang Wang, who flouted domestic and international regulations by smuggling artifacts made from an endangered species out of the United States, will be held to account for his crimes,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara. “This Office will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to hold to account anyone engaged in this illegal trade.”
“Poaching and profiteering are undermining decades of work by conservationists to stabilize and rebuild rhino and elephant populations,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Ashe. “As this latest guilty plea demonstrates, we continue working with our partners in the United States and overseas to stop the slaughter and crack down on the illegal trafficking that fuels it.”
According to the information, plea agreement, and statements made during court proceedings:
In China, there is a tradition dating back centuries of intricately carving rhinoceros horn cups. Drinking from such a cup was believed by some to bring good health, and antique carvings are highly prized by collectors. Libation cups and other ornamental carvings are particularly sought after in China and in other Asian countries, as well as in the United States. The escalating value of such items has resulted in an increased demand for rhinoceros horn that has helped fuel a thriving black market, including fake antiques made from recently hunted rhinoceros.
Between approximately January 2011 and February 2013, Wang conspired with at least two others to smuggle objects containing rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory out of the United States knowing that it was illegal to export such items without required permits. Due to their dwindling populations, all rhinoceros and elephant species are protected under international trade agreements. Wang made and used false U.S. Customs Declarations for the packages containing rhinoceros horn and ivory objects in order to conceal the true contents of the packages, and did not declare them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or U.S. Customs and Border Protection as required under U.S. law and international trade agreements.
Wang, 34, of Flushing, N.Y., pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Under the terms of the plea agreement, items recovered from Wang’s apartment, including an ivory statute found hidden behind his bed, will be forfeited. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Forrest on Oct. 25, 2013.
Rhinoceros are an herbivore species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth. They have no known predators other than humans. All species of rhinoceros are protected under United States and international law. Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by over 170 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife, and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.
Operation Crash is a continuing investigation being conducted by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in coordination with other federal and local law enforcement agencies including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. A “crash” is the term for a herd of rhinoceros. Operation Crash is an ongoing effort to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns.
Mr. Bharara and Mr. Dreher commended the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its outstanding work in this investigation. They also thanked the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Law Enforcement and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations for their assistance.
The case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office Complex Frauds Unit and the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. Assistant United States Attorney Janis M. Echenberg and Senior Trial Attorney Richard A. Udell of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section are in charge of the prosecution.
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