Wrist slap for suspected ivory smugglers

An elephant in Mikumi National Park, which borders the Selous Game Reserve, on October 13, 2013.  Photo by Daniel Hayduk

Suspected smugglers traveling from Dar es Salaam to Beijing with eight suitcases full of ivory have been released without charge in Switzerland. The ivory has been seized and China may chose to lay charges against the three men.  Photo by Daniel Hayduk

Three Chinese men who allegedly transported 262 kilograms of ivory through Dar’s Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) have been released without charge in Switzerland.

“We believe that the men are simple couriers,” says Swiss Customs official Heinz Widmer speaking to NBC News.

Widmer told NBC News that while the suspects were released without charge, their ivory was seized.

The decision has shocked the animal rights community, several of which are headquartered in Switzerland.

“We constantly criticize countries in Africa for giving very lenient penalties to smugglers but now in a developed country they have basically been given a slap on the wrist for smuggling an enormous amount of ivory,” says Grace Ge Gabriel, a regional director with the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES.)

“Given that that Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is based in Geneva it is even more astounding and hypocritical,” says Ge Gabriel.

Had the men been found guilty in Switzerland, they could have faced up to three years in prison and fines over $1 million USD.

China could still lay charges against the trio.

The ivory — worth over $400,000 USD (850 million TSH) — was discovered in eight suitcases by customs officials in Zurich, Switzerland last month after it was smuggled through JNIA with the apparent complicity of staff members.

Read more:  Airport, army staff linked to ivory haul

Read more: Huge ivory haul slips through Dar

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