U.S. Sentences Man Who Ran Network That Trafficked Turtles to China
A U.S. court sentenced a 25-year-old Chinese national to more than three years in prison after he pleaded guilty to laundering money for a wildlife trafficking syndicate which specialized in smuggling turtles, the Department of Justice revealed in a statement last week.
Kang Juntao recruited a network of poachers, shippers and middlemen to illegally obtain and export turtles, the DoJ said. He sent money through U.S. banks to pay for the turtles and their shipments and arranged for the animals to be sold illegally in the Chinese pet market for thousands of dollars each.
The middlemen were mainly Chinese citizens who entered the U.S. on student visas. Kang paid and instructed them to repackage the turtles in boxes with false labels for clandestine shipment to Hong Kong.
“The turtles were inhumanely bound with duct tape and placed in socks so as not to alert customs authorities,” the statement said.
Juntao admitted to “financing a nationwide ring of individuals who smuggled at least 1,500 protected turtles, valued at more than $2,250,000, from the United States to Hong Kong,” the DoJ said. The court ordered Kang to pay a $10,000 fine, equaling the total assets he held in the U.S.
Though Kang had never set foot in the U.S. while committing the crime, he was extradited from Malaysia after passing through Kuala Lumpur in 2019.
Hong Kong has long been considered a major hub for the illegal wildlife trade, and according to a recent report in Mongabay, in the past two years authorities on the island have seized nearly 650 tons of illegal wildlife parts.
Kang specifically dealt in five types of turtles whose trade has been banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). According to the DoJ, an individual turtle was worth anywhere from US$650 to as much as $20,000.
“The extradition of a foreign national who had never set foot on American soil for financing a turtle-trafficking ring in the U.S. sends an important message: those who exploit imperiled wildlife for profit will be brought to justice,” said Edward Grace, the Assistant Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement.