A Malawi magistrate’s court in the capital Lilongwe has sentenced a Chinese national to 32 years in prison after pleading guilty to three wildlife crimes, described by some as the biggest African wildlife trafficking kingpin. The court, however, said the sentences would run concurrently for 14 years and then there were plans to deport him. But the convict wants to appeal against the sentence.
Judge Justice Violet Chipao on Tuesday sentenced Lin Yunhua to 14 years for trading in rhino horns, 14 years for possessing rhino horns and an additional six years for money laundering. Justice Chipao, however, said the sentences would run concurrently, meaning Lin would serve a total of 14 years.
Lin, a Chinese citizen and the leader of the wildlife trafficking syndicate Lin-Zhang gang – named after the husband-and-wife leaders – has been operating out of Malawi for at least a decade. Malawi authorities arrested him in August 2019 after a three-month search.
Prosecuting attorney Andy Conga says Lin will face another sentence after completing his sentence.
“Once he serves his sentence, our colleagues in the DPP [Director of Public Prosecution] The office will probably take it to the homeland security minister and then initiate the process of his deportation as the court has recommended that he should be deported from the country,” he said.
Lin’s sentence brings the number of wildlife trafficking syndicate members sent to prison to 14. They include four Malawians and 10 Chinese nationals, including Lin’s wife, who is currently serving 11 years in prison. Lin’s daughter was also arrested in December 2020 for alleged money laundering. His trial is going on.
Brighton Kumchedwa, director of Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife, warned that crackdowns on members of the Lin-Zhang gang should send a message to other wildlife trafficking gangs.
“Now we are starting to deal with sponsors, King Pins. My message to these syndicates is ‘they should be careful; Malawi is not a playground. We will get to them eventually. So, they better stop,'” They said.
Kumchedwa says that this action is a result of new strategies by the government to tackle wildlife crimes.
“From 2015 onwards we completely changed the game of tackling wildlife crimes. So, we used [our] Own intelligence with police intelligence. We also used sniffer dogs in this process. So, it’s the different strategies that have seen us go this far,” he said.
Mary Rice is the executive director of the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an organization that campaigns against environmental crimes and abuse. Speaking to the VOA via a messaging app from London, Rice says the action reflects Malawi’s commitment to bringing high-level wildlife offenders to justice,
“It was not an easy road. But the perseverance and resilience of the investigators, lawyers and judges made some very interesting observations in the sentencing, all of which should be commended for their work. We know that there are many, many obstacles along the way. So, I think it’s a good result,” she said.
Defense lawyer Crispin Nadalama told the VOA on Tuesday that his client is considering appealing the sentence.
“Of course, over the phone, the client indicated that he wants to appeal, but I have to first look at the decision, see and understand the court’s reasoning so that I can properly advise my client whether we need to appeal.” For or not,” he said.
Nadalama says he expected the court to sentence Lin less because he pleaded guilty to charges of possession of wildlife products.
The court has given the defense 30 days to appeal against the sentence.