[Coral-List] CITES Guilty Plea for Trade in Black Coral
steven.thur at noaa.gov
Mon Mar 29 08:10:54 EDT 2010
I am posting the following on behalf of a colleague at the U.S.
Department of Justice:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
THURSDAY, MARCH 11, 2010
TDD (202) 514-1888
*_TAIWANESE COUPLE PLEADS GUILTY TO ILLEGALLY TRADING_*
*_PROTECTED BLACK CORAL_*
WASHINGTON---Two Taiwanese nationals pleaded guilty today in
federal court in the U.S. Virgin Islands for conspiracy to ship
internationally protected black coral into the United States in
violation of federal wildlife statutes, the Department of Justice announced.
Gloria Chu and Ivan Chu of Taipei, Taiwan, each pleaded guilty to nine
counts including conspiracy, false statements, and violations of both
the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act makes it a
felony to falsely label wildlife that is intended for international
commerce. The Endangered Species Act is the U.S. domestic law that
implements the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Each of the species of black coral is
listed in Appendix II of CITES and is subject to strict trade regulations.
Black coral is one of the several types of precious corals that
can be polished to a high sheen, worked into artistic sculptures and
used in inlaid jewelry. Use of black coral in artistry has existed for
centuries in the Indo-Pacific and Mediterranean. Black coral is
typically found in deep waters, and many species have long life spans
and are slow-growing. One specimen was reported by scientists to be
more than 4,200 years old with a growth rate of only 5 micrometers (one
millionth of meter) per year. Additionally, using deep sea
submersibles, scientists have observed that fish and invertebrates tend
to accumulate around the black coral colonies. In the last few decades,
pressures from overharvesting, due in part to the wider availability of
scuba gear and invasive species, have threatened this group of coral.
According to plea agreements filed with the court, the Chus ran a
business named Peng Chia Enterprise Co. Ltd. that supplied materials
including black coral to customers outside of Taiwan for jewelry design
and manufacture. At times prior to 2007, the Chus were issued CITES
export permits by the Taiwanese government in order to ship black coral
overseas. Since 2007, however, they have been unable to obtain permits
because they are unable to produce a legitimate certificate of origin.
Both Chus admitted that in order to supply a company based in the Virgin
Islands with black coral, they would falsely label shipments in order to
conceal the coral from U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. The
conspiracy included travel to a warehouse in mainland China to choose
coral from a Chinese supplier and the use of an intermediary to ship the
black coral from Hong Kong to Company X in St. Thomas. The scheme took
place for at least two years prior to the customs seizure of an August
2009 shipment destined for Company X.
On Aug. 19, 2009, Peng Chia sent a shipment comprised of 10 boxes of
black coral that were labeled "plastic of craft work." A U.S. Customs'
Contraband Enforcement Team flagged the shipment as suspicious and
contacted U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) from San Juan, Puerto Rico. As
a result, USFWS, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and
Immigration and Customs Enforcement opened a joint investigation,
"Operation Black Gold," that led to the arrest of the Chus in January
2010. Analysis by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National
Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Ore., revealed that shipment from the
Chus contained internationally- protected black coral. Today, the Chus
admitted that from 2007 to 2009, they sent more than $194,000 worth of
black coral to Company X.
"Trafficking in protected species like black coral violates
international and domestic law and threatens the existence of that
important resource," said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General
for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources
Division. "We will continue to enforce environmental and natural
resource laws so that future generations can continue to enjoy these
important marine resources."
"This should send a strong and clear message to those individuals
foreign and domestic, who deliberately break our environmental laws,
that their conduct will not be tolerated. Those who illegally plunder
nature's resources in favor of profits will be brought to justice," said
James Gale, Special Agent in Charge of the Fish and Wildlife Services's
Southeast Region. "The cooperative efforts show the commitment of all
agencies involved to protect coral and the natural resources against the
illegal international trade, we are all stewards."
"Stopping the illicit trade and depletion of protected species such as
black coral is critical to preserving a healthy and viable marine
environment," said U.S. Attorney Ronald W. Sharpe for the District of
the U.S. Virgin Islands. "The U.S. Attorney's Office will continue to
work closely with its domestic and international law enforcement
partners to detect, investigate and prosecute those who plunder and
traffic in endangered species for their selfish gain."
According to the plea agreements, Ivan Chu has agreed to serve 30 months
in prison and pay a $12,500 fine. Gloria Chu has agreed to serve 20
months in prison and pay a $12,500 fine. Both defendants would also be
prohibited from shipping coral and other wildlife products to the United
States for a three-year period after their release from prison. A
sentencing date has been set for June 23, 2010.
The case was investigated by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with
support from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and
Border Protection. The case is being prosecuted by the Justice
Department's Environmental Crimes Section and the U.S. Attorney's Office
for the District of the Virgin Islands.
Steven Thur, Ph.D.
Coral Reef Conservation Program
Office of Ocean & Coastal Resource Management
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
N/OCM, SSMC4, Rm. 10404
1305 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
email: steven.thur at noaa.gov
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