WASHINGTON — Danny M. Chien, a Taiwanese citizen and resident of Shanghai, China, and Style Craft Furniture Co., Ltd., were each indicted today by a federal grand jury in Newark, N.J., on one count of smuggling, announced Ronald J. Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Christopher J. Christie, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.
The company, a manufacturer of wooden baby furniture located primarily in China, imported approximately $15 million in declared value of wood furniture in 2004-2005.
According to the indictment, on approximately May 23, 2005, Chien, the day-to-day manager and president of Style Craft Furniture, shipped a container of furniture from China into the United States at Port Elizabeth, N.J., containing a wood commonly called “ramin.” The indictment alleges that the ramin originated from the wild in Indonesia and was imported without a valid required export permit or re-export certificate in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The United States, Indonesia, Malaysia, and China are, and were in 2005, signatories to the convention.
CITES protects certain species of fish, wildlife, and plants against overexploitation by regulating trade in the species. Species listed in Appendix II are those that may become threatened with extinction unless trade is strictly regulated. International efforts to curb the illegal harvest of ramin, used in the manufacture of baby cribs, include its listing in Appendix II of CITES.
For any trade of these species, CITES requires that the country of origin must issue a valid export permit. A permit can only be obtained if it has been determined that the export of the species will not be detrimental to the species’ survival and that the specimen was not obtained in violation of wildlife protection laws. For any re-export, the country of re-export must issue a valid re-export certificate. The export permit or re-export certificate must be obtained prior to importation into the United States.
Ramin is a light colored tropical hardwood found in tropical forests in parts of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia and Malaysia. These forests also serve in part as habitat for endangered orangutan. Indonesia has one of the highest rates of deforestation of any county, much of it due to illegal timber harvest. As a result, the Indonesian government is attempting to combat the illegal harvest of timber, including ramin, in part to protect the remaining orangutan habitat. They have done this through a variety of means including listing ramin in CITES Appendix III since 2001 and then CITES Appendix II effective Jan. 12, 2005.
An indictment contains only allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Under U.S. law, the Endangered Species Act prohibits any person from trading in specimens in violation of CITES. The maximum penalty for a smuggling violation by an individual at the time of the alleged violation is five years imprisonment and a fine of either $250,000, or twice the pecuniary gain or loss caused by the offense. The maximum fine for an organization is $500,000 or twice the pecuniary gain or loss caused by the offense.
The investigation was conducted by Special Agents of the Office of the Inspector General, the criminal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The case is being prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of New Jersey.