FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEFWS
MONDAY, JULY 23, 2001(202) 514-2008
TDD (202) 514-1888
FEDERAL AGENTS ARREST SIX MEN CHARGED WITH
ILLEGAL TRAFFICKING IN RARE PLANTS
WASHINGTON, D.C. Federal agents have arrested six individuals charged with crimes related to the illegal importation of internationally protected species of rare orchids or cycads.
Special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on July 20 arrested Peter H. Heibloem, 47, of Queensland, Australia, and Ernest J. Bouwer, 56, of Sandton, South Africa. Heibloem and Bouwer are charged with 15 counts of conspiracy, smuggling, and making false statements, in an indictment unsealed on July 20 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
According to the indictment, Heibloem, Bouwer and three other individuals sent approximately $542,000 worth of protected cycads to the United States from South Africa, Australia, and Zimbabwe.
Cycads, which resemble palms or tree ferns, are a small group of primitive-looking plants whose ancestors date back more than 200 million years. Like orchids, certain cycad species face threats in the wild from habitat loss and over-collection. Both groups of plants are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) - a treaty through which the United States and more than 150 other countries regulate global commerce in imperiled animals and plants.
Also charged in the indictment and arrested on July 20 is Donald Joseph Wiener, 64, of Mexico. He is alleged to have knowingly purchased about $200,000 worth of these plants from Heibloem.
Three other individuals charged in this indictment, John H. Baker of Gauteng, South Africa, Ian S. Turner of Harare, Zimbabwe, and Rolf Kyburz of Queensland, Australia, remain at large, outside the United States.
The indictment alleges that the men used invalid permits for the shipments of the rare plants and falsely labeled many of the plants shipped to cover up the lack of a valid permit. The shipments all were allegedly for commercial purposes.
Federal agents on July 20 also arrested Rolf D. Bauer, 44, of Johannesburg, South Africa and Jan Van Vuuren, 54, of Centurion, South Africa. In a separate 29-count indictment that was unsealed on July 20 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Bauer and Van Vuuren are charged with conspiracy, smuggling and making false statements. According to the indictment, these two men sent more than $300,000 worth of protected cycads to the United States from South Africa. The indictment alleges that the men used invalid permits for the commercial shipments and falsely labeled many of the plants to cover up the lack of a valid permit.
Jose "Pepe" Portilla, 34, of Ecuador, also was arrested on July 20. He is charged with smuggling in a one-count complaint in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. According to the complaint, Portilla sent approximately 10 protected cycads into the United States, contrary to law.
In a third indictment unsealed today in federal court in San Francisco, Antonius Juniarto, of Surabaya, Indonesia, and Iwan Kolopaking, 32, of Jakarta, Indonesia, are charged with 21 counts of conspiracy, smuggling and false statements related to the shipment of rare orchids into the United States from Indonesia. Juniarto and Kolopaking remain at large. According to the indictment, the two men sent multiple packages of the orchids through the mail with customs declarations falsely identifying the contents as toys.
A fourth indictment unsealed today in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco charges Terence Leung, of Hong Kong, with four counts of smuggling related to shipments of orchids from Hong Kong into the United States. Leung remains at large.
The maximum penalty for each of the charges against each of these men is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. An indictment contains allegations against an individual, and all defendants must be presumed innocent of the charges against them unless they are convicted.
All of the species of cycads at issue are protected under CITES, to which the United States, South Africa, Australia, Zimbabwe, Indonesia and China are parties. The United States implements CITES through the Endangered Species Act. Most of the species at issue are listed in Appendix I of CITES, which species are threatened with extinction and may be traded only in exceptional circumstances, and then only with required permits. Because trade in Appendix I species is permitted only if it is not detrimental to the survival of the species, and is not primarily for commercial purposes, an Appendix I listing effectively bans commercial trade of the species, unless the plant specimen is artificially propagated.
The undercover investigation into the international trade in protected species of orchids and cycads was conducted by special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Office of the Inspector General, as well as the South African Police Endangered Species Protection Unit, Australian Customs, and Environment Australia. The cases are being prosecuted by the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney's Offices for the Northern District of California and the Central District of California.