Two foreign nationals from the Democratic Republic of Congo were arrested outside Seattle last week and charged by a federal grand jury with conspiracy and money laundering for allegedly smuggling ivory and rhino horns into the United States.
Herdade Lokua, 23, and his cousin, 31-year-old Jospin Mujangi, both from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are charged with working with a mediator, which is described in the 11-count indictment as “an innocent accomplice.” – the conspirator “- to facilitate four shipments of poaching goods to Seattle in August, September and May last year, according to court documents.
Both men arrived in Washington on November 2 to negotiate further shipments of banned animal parts and were arrested in Edmonds, according to Homeland Security officials. On Thursday, they appeared before the US District Court, where they pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy, money laundering, smuggling and violation of the Lacey Act, which prohibits false reporting in interstate or foreign trade.
The indictment alleges that the shipments violated the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), an international agreement between 183 countries, including the United States, aimed at protecting endangered plants and animals.
Both men were detained pending further hearings. The date of the hearing is scheduled for January 10.
Officials said Washington was a hub for the smuggling of illegal animal parts, in part due to its location as a transport hub on the west coast and its proximity to Asia, where demand for these items is high.
Overall, the indictment alleges that these individuals facilitated the smuggling of four packages containing a total of 49 pounds of ivory from endangered African elephants and five pounds of horns from African white rhinos, which are also listed as endangered species. According to the indictment, an undercover National Security agent paid them $ 14,500 for ivory and another $ 18,000 for a rhino horn.
An additional $ 3.5 million in ivory, rhino horns and pangolin scales were seized in the Congo, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The indictment alleges that the two men were allegedly in talks to smuggle pangolin scales into the United States.
According to the indictment, the ivory intended for decorative carving was cut into rectangular pieces, painted black and hidden in a shipment of ebony, and the manifesto said it was valued at $ 60.
The indictment alleges that Lokua offered to ship large quantities of ivory hidden in shipping containers filled with rubber. Lokua reportedly told an uncharged accomplice that he could also send large shipments of ivory, rhino horn, and scales of pangolin, a nocturnal mammal also known as the scaly anteater.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the men were arrested when they arrived in Washington for talks.
David Yost, a spokesman for the DHS office in Seattle, said the rhino horn was intended for “medicinal purposes.” The US Fisheries and Wildlife Service reports that rhino horn is used in traditional Chinese medicine for a variety of purposes, including lowering fever and reducing symptoms of gout.
The conspirators also discussed the importation of large quantities of pangolin scales. According to the indictment, pangolins are considered the best-selling animal in the world, and their keratin scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Their meat is considered a delicacy in some cultures.
The accomplice agreed to buy approximately 55 pounds of pangolin scales to hide in a shipment of wood chips, but the shipment was never delivered, according to the indictment. The indictment alleges that they discussed the smuggling of 1,100 pounds of pangolin scales into the United States in exchange for $ 30,000 in cash.
The charges allege that the smuggling was linked to bribery of African customs officials in Kinsasha, the capital of the DRC.