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Man pleads guilty to smuggling ivory after 8 years on the lam

By Cao Yin | China Daily | Updated: 2019-08-21 09:10
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A man pleaded guilty in a Beijing court on Tuesday to ivory smuggling, eight years after he fled China attempting to escape punishment.

Zhang Weihua, 46, from Hunan province, confessed to smuggling 234 ivory products, including necklaces and bracelets, from Nigeria when he stood trial at the Beijing No 4 Intermediate People's Court on Tuesday morning.

"I bought the ivory products from a market in Nigeria when I did businesses there, and I planned to send them to my friends and relatives as gifts after I came back home," he said during the trial.

Carrying the ivory products in his luggage, Zhang, with another man surnamed Xiong, arrived at the Beijing Capital International Airport from Nigeria on June 22, 2011, but when Zhang discovered Xiong had been detained by customs officials, Zhang escaped, according to prosecutors.

"I was waiting for my checked luggage while Xiong was going through customs," Zhang said. "I didn't receive any replies from Xiong after I called him several times, so I realized our goods might be exposed and escaped without my luggage."

"I knew such products were prohibited in China, but I still took a chance," he explained.

Zhang went to a railway station in Beijing after he left the airport and took a train to Guangdong province, where his home is located. Later, he went abroad, prosecutors said.

Under an international judicial assistant agreement, Zhang was transferred from Vietnam in March this year and was charged with smuggling wildlife products, prosecutors added.

The ivory products Zhang carried weighed 17 kilograms and were worth more than 700,000 yuan ($99,000), they said, suggesting the court give him a heavier sentence.

But Zhang's lawyer said his client confessed to the crime with a cooperative attitude, "which could be regarded as an element for the court to leniently sentence him."

Xiong, Zhang's companion who had carried fewer products, had been sentenced to five years in prison for the same charge at the end of 2011, prosecutors said.

After a two-hour trial, the court said Zhang's sentence will be announced at a later date.

Recent statistics from the court show it heard 56 wildlife product smuggling cases in the last four years, 51 of which have been concluded.

Besides ivory products, goods made of antelope, pangolin skins and rhinoceros horn also appeared in the smuggling cases, the court said.

"Defendants often worked overseas and purchased the products before retiring to China, and many put the goods in cans or water bottles in their luggage," a report issued by the court in 2017 added.

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