(CBS) — U.S. law enforcement agencies have taken down a smuggling network accused of trafficking at least $7 million dollars worth of rhino horn and elephant tusk — as well as heroin — around the world. The bust is the first major success for a small group of people trying to shift the narrative on the illegal wildlife trade. These indictments are proof, they say, that the criminals who threaten the world’s endangered species are also a direct threat to our safety as humans.
Charges were unsealed Thursday by the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York against four individuals accused of running the smuggling ring. They face charges including conspiracy to traffic in protected species and narcotics, and money laundering.
“As alleged, these defendants are members of an international conspiracy to traffic in not only heroin but also rhino horns and elephant ivory. The alleged enterprise, responsible for the illegal slaughter of dozens of rhinos and more than 100 elephants, was as destructive to protected species as it was lucrative,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman in a statement released by the Southern District on Thursday. “The excellent work of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the DEA has put the brakes on an operation that allegedly peddled dead protected species and potentially deadly narcotics.”
The charges were unsealed just hours after one of the key suspects, Liberian national Moazu Kromah, who went by a number of aliases including “Kampala Man,” was arrested in Uganda and “expelled to the United States.” It was a joint operation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working in partnership with African authorities. One other suspect was being held by authorities in Senegal, pending a U.S. extradition request, and two others remained at large.
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