Oct 24, 2018 – A Hong Kong SAR court took a promising step toward demonstrating its commitment to ending wildlife crime when it sentenced a man to eight months in jail for smuggling 3.1kg of rhino horn with an estimated market value of up to US$217,000.
“An eight-month jail sentence for rhino horn trafficking is a promising sign that the Hong Kong SAR legal system is taking wildlife crime seriously, especially since increasing penalties in May,” said Alex Hofford, Wildlife Campaigner, WildAid Hong Kong SAR. “However, to help authorities target ‘kingpins’ rather than ‘mules,’ we continue to urge that wildlife offenses be included under Schedule 1 of the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance (OSCO). Finally, WildAid urges the public to not buy any rhino horn products, because when the buying stops the killing can too.”
Most smuggling offenses in Hong Kong SAR are now prosecuted under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap 586). Under Schedule 1 of OSCO, investigators can look into areas such as money laundering regarding wildlife crime, whether the offense occurs inside or outside Hong Kong SAR. Since international crime syndicates commit most wildlife crimes, the additional investigative tools would help authorities better connect the dots and prosecute crime bosses.
On June 17, Wei Bin, a mainland Chinese carpenter, was stopped by customs officials at Hong Kong International Airport while he was traveling with rhino horn in a plastic bag in his luggage, from Mozambique to Fujian province in China. He had no valid certifying documents as required under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and later pled guilty to one count of importing specimens of endangered animals. During sentencing, Deputy District Judge Li Chi-ho said a harsher punishment was needed to reflect the change in the law.
This is the second case to go to trial since Hong Kong SAR lawmakers approved an increase in penalties to US$1.3 million (HK$10 million) and jail time of 10 years in May. Before this, the maximum punishment was a US$255,000 fine (HK$2 million) and two years in prison.
In July, though, Chinese businessman Liu Xin was sentenced to just four months for illegally transporting 6kg of rhino horn through Hong Kong SAR. This was a lighter sentence for trafficking a heavier weight of rhino horn than Wei Bin’s case.
Hong Kong SAR is a global hub for trafficking ivory, rhino horn, shark fin, pangolin scales and other wildlife products. The government of Hong Kong SAR earlier this year approved a ban on ivory sales.
As part of its efforts to reduce consumer demand for these animal products, WildAid has placed hundreds of billboards featuring well-known celebrities such as Jay Chou, Yao Ming, and Bowie Wu throughout airports, subways, buses, and shopping centers across Hong Kong SAR.
Bans on the trade of rhino horn in China (including Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan) as well as Singapore, combined with increased public awareness campaigns, have reduced demand for rhino horn and recent reports indicate poaching has decreased by 25% in South Africa, but still, almost 1,000 rhinos are killed each year for their horns.
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WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to protect wildlife from illegal trade and other imminent threats. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages more than $308 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too.
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