Canadian antiques dealer Xiao Ju Guan, aka Tony Guan, 39, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Manhattan today for conspiring to smuggle wildlife, including rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for the Southern District of New York and Director Dan Ashe of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS).
Guan, the president and owner of an antiques business in Richmond, British Columbia, was arrested on March 29, 2014, after flying from Vancouver to New York and purchasing two endangered black rhinoceros horns from undercover special agents with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at a storage facility in the Bronx. After purchasing the horns in a storage pod, Guan had the undercover agents drive him and a female accomplice acting as his interpreter to a nearby express mail store where he mailed the horns to an address in Point Roberts, Washington, less than a mile from the Canadian border and 17 miles from his business. Guan labeled the box of black rhino horns as containing “handicrafts” worth $200, even though he had just paid $45,000 for them. Guan indicated that he had people who could drive the horns across the border and that he had done so many times before.
Guan and his co-conspirators allegedly smuggled more than $500,000 of rhino horns and sculptures made from elephant ivory and coral from various U.S. auction houses to Canada by the same method or by having packages mailed directly to Canada with false paperwork and without the required declaration or permits. One part of the criminal scheme was to falsely describe the wildlife in order to conceal Guan’s wildlife smuggling. In the case of a rhino horn purchased in Florida, the Customs paperwork claimed it was a “Wooden Horn” worth $200.
At the same time that Guan was being arrested in New York, wildlife enforcement officers with Environment Canada executed a search warrant at Guan’s antique business in Canada. Environment Canada and Justice Canada are working cooperatively with U.S. investigators and prosecutors. The Guan case is part of “Operation Crash,” a U.S. Fish & Wildlife and Justice Department crackdown on illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns.
“Illegal wildlife trafficking is a multibillion-dollar business that must be stopped,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Hirsch. “The Justice Department is working vigorously to uphold the laws designed to protect rhinos and elephants and other threatened species from extinction and is working alongside our international partners to bring black-market wildlife traders to justice. We are also very grateful here for the assistance from Canadian authorities.”
“There is an ever-expanding black market for objects made from endangered species that fuels the devastating and senseless slaughter of noble animals,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara. “The charges levied today are designed to deal a heavy blow to those that are deliberately profiting from the trade in rare and endangered species.”
“As this case illustrates, the United States plays a key role in the illegal wildlife trade – often as the source of, or transit country for, poached and smuggled wildlife products headed elsewhere in the world,” said Director Ashe. “This makes coordination vital with our international partners as we work together to halt the slaughter of rhinos, elephants and many other imperiled species. We have a long history of collaboration with Environment Canada on wildlife trafficking and other issues, and we appreciate the invaluable assistance they’ve provided in this case.”
Rhinoceros are an herbivore species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth. They have no known predators other than humans. All species of rhinoceros are protected under U.S. and international law. Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by over 170 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.
Operation Crash is a continuing investigation by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in coordination with the Department of Justice. A “crash” is the term for a herd of rhinoceros. Operation Crash is an ongoing effort to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns. The Guan case was investigated by FWS, the U.S. Attorney’s Office Complex Frauds Unit and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section with assistance from Environment Canada’s Wildlife Enforcement Directorate. Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis M. Echenberg and Senior Counsel Richard A. Udell of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section are in charge of the prosecution.
An indictment is an allegation based upon a finding of probable cause. A defendant is presumed innocent until convicted. If convicted, Guan faces up to five years in prison for the conspiracy and wildlife charges and up to ten years in prison for the crime of smuggling. Guan could be fined up to $200,000 per count or up to twice the gross gain from the criminal conduct.