Wildlife, forest and fisheries crime

Species Involved

• Horn (black rhinocerus)
• Ivory (elephant)

Details

• CITES protected species
• Undocumented/unlicensed conduct

United States v Zhifei Li

UNODC No.:
USAx027

Fact Summary

Zhifei Li, 29, is from the Shandong Province, China. Since 2011, he has owned and managed an antique shop, Overseas Treasure Finding, located in Jinan City, Shandong, China. Li was involved in purchasing, selling and smuggling Asian art and antiques prior to opening his own business. 

Li was arrested on or about January 30, 2013, in Miami Beach, Florida, on a Criminal Complaint sworn out in the District of New Jersey, on September 27, 2012, charging Li, who lived in China, with wildlife smuggling. Li's trip was planned in coordination with a Chinese national who owned an antique business in New York (hereinafter, the "Long Island City Dealer") and who, at Li's direction, on numerous occasions over more than a year, smuggled rhinoceros horns and art objects made from rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory to Li in China by way of Hong Kong. Prior to entering the United States, Li asked the Long Island City Dealer to assist him in locating rhinoceros horns there.

Li was arrested by Special Agents with the US. Fish & Wildlife Service - Office of Law Enforcement ( "USFWS-OLE") several days after arriving in the United States and after he purchased two horns of the endangered black rhinoceros in an undercover operation in Miami Beach, Florida, of which he was the target. Li has been detained since his arrest. He was indicted on two counts in the Southern District of Florida on February 12, 2013. The second count charged a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 554 (smuggling raw rhinoceros horns from the United States). On February 11, 2013, Li was indicted in the District of New Jersey in a one-count indictment charging conspiracy to smuggle raw rhinoceros horns from the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371.

Defendant Li purchased raw rhinoceros horns, as well as carved rhinoceros horns and objects made from elephant ivory, in the United States and smuggled them to China by way of Hong Kong. Li purchased these items via Internet auction, phone bidding and through the Long Island City dealer and two other Chinese nationals who worked in the United States as antiques dealers. These dealers then smuggled the wildlife items out of the United States without declaring them to USFWS, and without obtaining, or applying for, the required CITES export and import permits.

Commentary and Significant Features

The sentence is one of the longest ever imposed in the United States for a wildlife smuggling offenses.

Sentence Date:
2013-12-17

Cross Cutting

Liability

... for

• completed offence

... based on

• criminal intention

... as involves

• principal offender(s)

Application of the Convention

Details

• occurred across one (or more) international borders (transnationally)

Involved Countries

China

Investigation

Details

• Joint investigative teams
Comments:

The investigation that led to the charges and to Li's arrest is part of Operation Crash, a proactive long-term USFWS (United States Fish and Wildlife Service) investigation to detect and deter the illegal trade in rhinoceros horn and other protected species.

 

Procedural Information

Legal System:
Mixed System
Latest Court Ruling:
Court of 1st Instance
Type of Proceeding:
Criminal
 
 
Proceeding #1:
  • Stage:
    first trial
  • Court

    • Criminal

    Outcome

  • Verdict:
    Guilty
  • Sentences

    Sentence

    Term of Imprisonment:
    5 years 10 Months
     

    Additionally, supervised release for two years, as well as a forfeiture of proceeds (USD 2.5 million) from the sale of the concerned items.

    Defendants / Respondents in the first instance

    Defendant:
    Zhifei Li
    Nationality:
    Chinese

    Charges / Claims / Decisions

    Defendant:
    Zhifei Li
    Charge / Claim:

    Li was indicted on two counts in the Southern District of Florida on February 12, 2013. The second count charged a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 554 (smuggling raw rhinoceros horns from the United States). On February 11, 2013, Li was indicted in the District of New Jersey in a one-count indictment charging conspiracy to smuggle raw rhinoceros horns from the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371.

    Court

    United States District Court for the District of New Jersey

    Attachments

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