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Press Release

Antiques Dealer Sentenced In Manhattan Federal Court To Two Years In Prison For Smuggling Cups Made From Rhinoceros Horns To China

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York

            Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, John C. Cruden, the Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, and Dan Ashe, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director, announced that LINXUN LIAO was sentenced yesterday in Manhattan federal court to two years in prison for his role in a wildlife trafficking scheme in which he purchased and smuggled 16 “libation cups” carved from rhinoceros horns and worth more than $1 million from the United States to China. LIAO previously pled guilty to two counts of illegally smuggling rhinoceros horn objects from the United States.  U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield imposed yesterday’s sentence.

            Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “This defendant flouted the laws established to protect endangered wildlife.  Willfully failing to declare the nature of the shipments or obtain required permits, Liao broke laws that protect rhinoceros and other magnificent species threatened with extinction.  He has learned the cost of his illegal conduct.”

            Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden said: “This prosecution is the result of a vigorous and ongoing investigation into traffickers profiting from endangered and precious wildlife species.  We must ensure that the market for antiques and alleged antiques does not also contribute to the extinction of these iconic animals, which could disappear in our lifetimes if we do not act now to stop this illegal trade.”            

            U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said: “Each of the ceremonial cups that Liao trafficked represents one step closer to extinction for the rhinoceros, which are steadily being wiped out by poachers for the illegal rhino horn market. The seriousness of this crime and others like it and their consequences for the world’s most imperiled species are what drives our efforts to root out and shut down illegal operators like Mr. Liao. This sentence will serve as a strong warning that we are going to find, arrest and prosecute anyone engaged in this sort of activity and make sure they are no longer able to deprive our children and grandchildren of their wildlife inheritance.”

            According to the Information, other documents filed in Manhattan federal court, and statements made at various proceedings in this case, including today’s sentencing:

            LIAO was arrested in February 2015 as part of “Operation Crash,” a nationwide crackdown on illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns.  LIAO, a Canadian citizen, was a partner in an Asian art and antiques business located in China.  LIAO’s role was to purchase items, including wildlife items, in the United States and arrange for their export to China.  Between in or about March 2012 and May 2013, LIAO made online purchases of 16 rhinoceros horn products, more specifically libation cups, from auction houses in the United States, including in Manhattan, which he then smuggled to China without the required declarations and permits.  In order to make these purchases, LIAO used an address of his family members in New Jersey (the “New Jersey Location”) because he knew that absent a domestic address, the auction houses would not ship him rhinoceros horn or ivory products that LIAO had purchased.  Liao then used a Manhattan-based courier service to illegally export the merchandise to China.  LIAO did not declare the rhinoceros exports to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or obtain the required permits despite his knowledge of the need to do so.  LIAO closely coordinated his efforts with co-conspirators who sold the items for a profit at their antique business in China.  The market value of the rhinoceros libation cups in this case is more than $1,000,000.     

            The rhinoceros is an herbivore species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth.  They have no known predators other than humans.  All species of rhinoceros are protected under U.S. and international law.  Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under CITES, a treaty signed by over 170 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife, and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.  Rhinoceros are also protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which further regulates trade and transport.

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            In addition to his prison term, LIAO, 35, a Chinese citizen who resides in Canada, was sentenced to two years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $1 million and 304 pieces of carved ivory found during a search of the New Jersey Location. 

            Operation Crash is a continuing investigation by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with the Department of Justice.  A “crash” is the term for a herd of rhinoceros.  Operation Crash is an ongoing effort to detect, deter, and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns.

            U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara thanked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its outstanding work in this investigation.  This case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.  Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer Gachiri and Senior Litigation Counsel Richard A. Udell with the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice are in charge of the prosecution.

Updated November 13, 2015

Press Release Number: 15-293