WASHINGTON: A 24-year-old Chinese national has been extradited from Malaysia to the US to face charges for money laundering, the justice department has announced, alleging that he used a nationwide ring of individuals who smuggled at least 1,500 protected turtles out of the country valued at USD 2.5 million.
Kang Juntao of Hangzhou City in eastern China was charged in February 2019 with financing a number of individuals who smuggled at least 1,500 protected turtles out of the US valued at USD 2,250,000.
He was arrested on January 23 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on a request submitted by the US authorities for his provisional arrest with a view to extradition.
According to the indictment, from June 12, 2017, through December 3, 2018, Kang allegedly purchased turtles in the US and arranged for them to be smuggled to associates in Hong Kong.
He sent money through US banks, including one in New Jersey, to pay for the turtles and their illegal shipments.
The turtles would then be sold on the Asian pet trade black market for thousands of dollars each, depending on their sex, colouring, and age, federal prosecutors said.
The US, Malaysia, China and approximately 181 other countries are signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
CITES is an international treaty that restricts trade in species that may be threatened with extinction.
"The Department of Justice is committed to prosecuting criminals who abuse the US financial system to fund their illegal enterprises," said Jonathan Brightbill, the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Aurelia Skipwith, the Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), said wildlife trafficking is a serious crime that impacts imperiled species at home and abroad.
"The Trump administration is committed to the conservation of wildlife. I would like to thank the US Department of Justice and our various law enforcement partners for their assistance with this case. By working together, we can protect our nation's wildlife for future generations," Aurelia said.
Kang allegedly trafficked in five turtle species protected by the treaty.
The eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), the Florida box turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) and the Gulf Coast box turtle (Terrapene carolina major) are subspecies of the common box turtle (Terrapene carolina) and have been listed in CITES since 1995.
The spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) is a semi-aquatic turtle listed in CITES as of 2013.
The wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) has been protected under CITES since 1992.
The indictment further alleges that Kang sent money through PayPal to the US to purchase turtles from sellers advertising on social media or reptile trade websites.
These suppliers then shipped the turtles to middlemen across five different states.
The middlemen were typically Chinese citizens who entered the country on student visas.
Kang paid and instructed these intermediaries to repackage the turtles in boxes with false labels for clandestine shipment to Hong Kong.
The turtles were inhumanely bound with duct tape and placed in socks so as not to alert customs authorities.
Neither Kang nor his associates declared the turtles to US or Chinese customs or obtained the required CITES permits.