Washington: A Chinese national has pleaded guilty in a federal court in Miami to charges stemming from his involvement in smuggling of a carved rhinoceros horn from the United States to China.
Shusen Wei, 45, a business executive, now faces a possible term in prison of up to 10 years on the single count filed against him, a fine of up to USD 250,000, and a term of supervised release of up to three years.
His sentencing is scheduled for April 29. According to documents filed in Court, Wei travelled from China to Miami, a tourist city in the southeastern state Florida, in January 2013, to attend the Original Miami Beach Antique Show.
While attending the show, he roomed with another Chinese national who was later arrested for smuggling of rhinoceros horns from the US to China.
In pleading guilty, Wei admitted that he paid commissions to this other individual to purchase objects made of rhino horn in the United States and smuggle them to China and that he knew that this individual was engaged in the smuggling of protected species of wildlife, including rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory.
Wei had previously purchased libation cups made from carved rhinoceros horns from this same individual.
One of those items was sold at a US auction house for USD 242,500. This and other photographs of carved rhinoceros horns were found on Wei`s cell phone, federal prosecutors alleged.
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 178 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.
Nevertheless, the demand for rhinoceros horn and black market prices have skyrocketed in recent years due to the value that some cultures have placed on ornamental carvings, good luck charms or alleged medicinal purposes, leading to a decimation of the global rhinoceros population.
As a result, rhino populations have declined by more than 90 percent since 1970.
South Africa, for example, has witnessed a rapid escalation in poaching of live animals, rising from 13 in 2007 to 668 in 2012.