3 charged in rhino horn smuggling

Feb. 13, 2013 at 5:04 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- Three people have been charged in Newark, N.J., New York and Miami with smuggling rhinoceros horns, the U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday.

In a news release, the department said Zhifei Li, Shusen Wei and Qing Wang were charged as a result of "Operation Crash," a joint operation led by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Justice Department to crack down on black market trade of endangered rhino horns.

Li was charged in indictments handed up in Newark and Miami with conspiring to smuggle more than 20 raw rhino horns from the United States to Hong Kong in 2011 and 2012. Wei, described as a Chinese business executive and an associate of Li, faces charges of offering to bribe a federal agent in the Li case.

Wang was charged in New York with participating in the smuggling of items made from rhino horns.

The indictment alleges Li wired hundreds of thousands of dollars during a period of at least one year to a co-conspirator in the United States to fund purchases of rhinoceros horns.

Wei is accused of smuggling the rhino horns by putting them in vases and mailing them to Hong Kong and China to a third party, in an effort to evade detection.

Prosecutors said Li and Wei bought many of the horns from other co-conspirators in New Jersey.

Li, who was arrested in January on charges previously filed in New Jersey, was also was indicted in Miami this week on wildlife trafficking and smuggling charges. He allegedly purchased two endangered black rhino horns from an undercover U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agent while in Miami Beach, Fla., for the Original Miami Beach Antique Show.

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