By Jason Grant
The ringleader of an international rhino-horn smuggling operation pleaded guilty today in federal court in Newark to organizing a smuggling conspiracy in which $4.5 million worth of rhinoceros horns and numerous objects made from rhino horn and elephant tusks were smuggled from the United States to China.
Zhifei Li, the owner of an antique business in China and a Chinese national, appeared before U.S. District Judge Esther Salas during a lengthy hearing today. Speaking through an interpreter, the 29-year-old admitted to a litany of facts that laid out the far-reaching and longstanding smuggling operation.
Officials from U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman’s office have said that the illegal smuggling of horns, tusks and other animal parts, taken from endangered species animals, is estimated to be a multi-billion industry.
“The brutality of animal poaching, wherever it occurs, feeds the demand of a multibillion-dollar illegal international market,” Fishman said in a statement today. “As a major hub of international commerce through our ports and busy airport, the District of New Jersey plays an important role in curbing the escalation of this devastating trade. Zhifei Li’s conviction is a warning to those who would be lured by the profits of dealing in cruelty.”
Li, of Shandong, China, and the owner of Overseas Treasure Finding in Shandong, pleaded guilty today to a total of 11 counts: one count of conspiracy to smuggle and violate the Lacey Act; seven counts of smuggling; one count of illegal wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act; and two counts of making false wildlife documents.