CC Blog: A Strange Week for Smuggling

Published: 04 January 2013


The world of smuggling encompasses far more than drugs and cigarettes, and never was that more evident than this past week, when police uncovered some of the more unusual schemes we've seen. 

A Florida fossils dealer pled guilty to smuggling dinosaur skeletons into the U.S., including a 70 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus better known as "Ty." According to statements from the federal prosecutor in the case, 38-year-old Eric Prokopi kept the various dinos displayed in his multiple homes.

Prokopi also pled guilty to conspiracy for undervaluing and disguising the origin of the Tyrannosaurus skeleton and that of a Mongolian flying dinosaur, having declared the fossils at customs as "reptile bones" from Great Britain.  He was caught after trying to sell the Tyrannosaurus through Heritage Auctions. Prokopi faces up to 17 years in jail.

In October, we reported on the frenzied ivory rush that's leading to the large-scale slaughter of elephants in Africa. This week’s news highlighted a similar dilemma for rhinos. In South Africa, American federal agents discovered a worldwide criminal enterprise that was killing dozens of rhinoceroses in order to harvest their extremely valuable horns, which are believed in some regions of Asia to cure cancer and other ills, according to a New York Times report. The number of rhinos poached in South Africa has soared in the past five years, from 13 in 2007 to more than 630 in 2012, the Times said.

Also this week, Kim Jong Un warned of a danger we'd not heard of before: "knowledge smuggling." The North Korean ruler is cracking down on border control with China to prevent the "infiltration" of the cheap televisions and phones smuggled across the border to replace those preset by the government to receive only state channels.

Clearly, the black market has expanded since the days of the standard liquor, drug, and cigarette rings. Whether the blame lies with repressive governments, greedy millionaires or rampant consumerism, one thing is clear: smuggling will continue to grow as long as demand stays strong.

By Eliza Ronalds-Hannon