Canadian Antiques Dealer Charged In Manhattan Federal Court For Smuggling Rhinoceros Horns And Other Rare Wildlife Items
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Sam Hirsch, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, and Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”), announced that XIAO JU GUAN, a/k/a “Tony Guan,” a Canadian antiques dealer, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Manhattan today for conspiring to violate the Lacey Act and smuggle wildlife, including rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral, and was also charged with committing substantive Lacey Act and smuggling crimes.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “There is an ever-expanding black market for objects made from endangered species that fuels the devastating and senseless slaughter of noble animals. The charges levied today are designed to deal a heavy blow to those that are deliberately profiting from the trade in rare and endangered species.”
Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch said: “Illegal wildlife trafficking is a multi-billion dollar business that must be stopped. The Justice Department is working vigorously to uphold the laws designed to protect rhinos and elephants and other threatened species from extinction and is working alongside our international partners to bring black-market wildlife traders to justice. We are also very grateful here for the assistance from Canadian authorities.”
USFWS Director Dan Ashe said: “As this case illustrates, the United States plays a key role in the illegal wildlife trade – often as the source of, or transit country for, poached and smuggled wildlife products headed elsewhere in the world. This makes coordination vital with our international partners as we work together to halt the slaughter of rhinos, elephants and many other imperiled species. We have a long history of collaboration with Environment Canada on wildlife trafficking and other issues, and we appreciate the invaluable assistance they’ve provided in this case.”
According to the Indictment and other documents filed in Manhattan federal court, as well as statements made at the time of GUAN’s arrest:
Rhinoceros are a rare herbivore species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth. All species of rhinoceros and elephant are protected under U.S. and international law. Trade in rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and many species of coral is regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (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. An animal species listed as protected within CITES cannot be exported from the United States without prior notification to, and approval from, USFWS, including in the form of an export permit. In addition to the CITES treaty requirements, the Lacey Act makes it unlawful for a person to knowingly make a false record, account and identification for wildlife including objects made from and containing rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral.
GUAN was the president and owner of an antiques business in British Columbia, Canada. With his co-conspirators, GUAN smuggled rhinoceros horns and sculptures made from elephant ivory and coral, with a market value in excess of $500,000, from various U.S. auction houses to Canada, in a deliberate effort to evade U.S. laws requiring them to obtain certain declarations and permits in order to lawfully export these rare wildlife items. To smuggle the items across the border, GUAN and his co-conspirators shipped the items to an address close to the Canadian border and then drove the items across the border, or else shipped packages containing the wildlife items directly to Canada with false paperwork, and without the required declarations or permits.
Among other unlawful transactions, on March 29, 2014, GUAN traveled from Vancouver to New York in an attempt to purchase two endangered black rhinoceros horns from undercover USFWS agents posing as wildlife traffickers. After purchasing the horns at a storage facility in the Bronx, GUAN asked the undercover agents to drive him and an accomplice, who was acting as his interpreter, to a nearby express mail store where GUAN mailed the horns to an address in Point Roberts, Washington, less than a mile from the Canadian border and 17 miles from GUAN’s antiques business. In completing the shipping labels, GUAN claimed that the box of black rhino horns contained “handicrafts” worth just $200, even though GUAN had just paid $45,000 to the undercover agents for them. Furthermore, in doing so, GUAN indicated that he would arrange to have the rhinoceros horns driven across the border, and that he had done so many times before.
At the time of GUAN’s arrest, wildlife enforcement officers with Environment Canada executed a search warrant at GUAN’s antique business in Canada.
This case is the part of “Operation Crash,” a U.S. Fish & Wildlife and Justice Department crackdown on illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns. 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.
GUAN, 39, faces up to five years in prison for the conspiracy and wildlife charges and up to ten years in prison for the crime of smuggling. He could be fined up to $250,000 per count or up to twice the gross gain from the criminal conduct. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding efforts of USFWS in the investigation, which he noted is ongoing. He also thanked Environment Canada’s Wildlife Enforcement Directorate and Justice Canada for their assistance with this case.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis M. Echenberg and Senior Counsel Richard A. Udell of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.