Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Wildlife Victim Impact Statement Assists Prosecution in Hong Kong Rhinoceros Horns Case (Sing Tao Daily)

19 October 2018
A Chinese man working in South Africa who smuggled 3.11 kg of rhinoceros horns into Hong Kong from Mozambique in June this year was today sentenced in the District Court to 12 months imprisonment, reduced to 8 months on a guilty plea.
     The defendant, Wei Bin, claimed to work in Mozambique. He flew to Hong Kong on June 17 this year intending to transfer to the mainland to visit relatives. During his period of entry, he was found by the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department to be carrying rhinoceros horn (Rhinaceae species). As a highly endangered animal and an Appendix 1 listed species, possession of rhinoceros horn is prohibited under CITES (The Convention on Trade in Endangered Species). The defendant told the court that his boss knew that he would return home to visit relatives and promised to pay his ticket cost on the condition he carry rhinoceros horn to Fujian, China, where someone would be waiting to receive it. The defendant also stated that he knew that the goods were rhino horns belonging to the category of Appendix I CITES. The defendant was arrested by the Customs and Excise Department after he was found to have a rhinoceros horn in his baggage and could not produce a certificate of exemption for possession.The prosecutor told the court the estimated market value of the horns was between 830,000 to 1.7 million Hong Kong dollars. ​
     Since August 1, 2018, under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap 586), anyone who possesses a specimen of Appendix I species is liable on conviction to a fine of 10 million and 10 years' imprisonment. Committed to raising public awareness of wildlife crimes, Amanda Whitfort, a professor at the University of Hong Kong Law School who participated in the amendments to the Ordinance, said that in the past, if the case did not involve a commercial transaction, the court could only sentence the defendant to a maximum fine of HK$100,000 and imprisonment for 1 year. Professor Whitfort lamented past cases in which sentencers had failed to pay due regard to the impact of wildlife crime on the increasing extinction of species globally. Together with staff at the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, Professor Whitfort prepared a victim impact statement for rhinoceros which was used by prosecutors in Wei Bin's case to advise the judge on the impact of the crime. The sentence delivered today is the highest ever passed in Hong Kong for the smuggling of rhino horn. 
     Whitfort's research shows that the rising value of Hong Kong seizures in trafficked animals is now comparable with seizures in dangerous drugs. Given their lucrative black market value, and the finality of extinction, she has argued wildlife trafficking cases should be taken by the courts at least as seriously as drug trafficking offences.

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