By Katie Collom
A Texas-based Asian art appraiser pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court on Tuesday to participating in illegal wildlife smuggling, which included smuggling rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory to China.
Ning Qiu could face up to two years in prison and be fined $150,000 for his role in the smuggling ring. Qiu reportedly confessed to authorities that he helped ringleader Zhifei Li obtain ivory and horns, after which the items were smuggled to Hong Kong and used to produce fake antiques.
Qiu admitted to acting as one of the three antique dealers in the United States who Zhifei Li paid to obtain wildlife items. Li himself was responsible for smuggling the items out of the US and into Hong Kong.
The ringleader provided financing for dealers like Qiu, and also negotiated the price as well as paid for the rhino horns and elephant ivory. Li would also provide instructions regarding the best means of smuggling items out of the United States and put in place middlemen in Hong Kong who could receive the smuggled goods and then move them on to him in mainland China.
Li went on trial last month and was sentenced by a federal district court in Newark, New Jersey to serve 70 months in prison for his leading role in the illegal smuggling ring.
The 43-year-old Qiu worked as an Asian antique appraiser for seven years and, according to official reports, was motivated to take part in the smuggling ring out of pure greed and not because he had any interest in serving Asian cultural or medicinal practices. It is a common belief in China that items such as powdered rhino horns can have medicinal properties.
The arrest and sentencing of the two smugglers is a positive move forward towards wiping out the illegal ivory trade around the world. Hong Kong joined the US, China, and France in combatting poaching of animals for their tusks by burning its entire stockpile of illegal ivory - around 3 tons - earlier this year.