A court in Lilongwe yesterday jailed seven Chinese nationals and two Malawians for illegal possession of ivory, rhino horns and pangolin scales.
The nine are members of one of Southern Africa’s most prolific wildlife trafficking gangs.
They are led by Yunhua Lin who was arrested in August last year after a three-month manhunt and is expected to appear in court on Wednesday (22 July) on charges of possession of rhino horn, conspiracy and money-laundering.
Lin’s wife, Quinhua Zhang, was sentenced yesterday to 11 years in prison – seven years for possession of rhino horn and four years for an illegal firearm. The sentences will be served consecutively.
The Lilongwe Senior Resident Magistrate’s also sentenced Li Hao Yuan to a total of 11 years in prison which include seven years for possession of rhino horn and four years for an illegal firearm, to be served consecutively. Li was also slapped with 1.5 years for possession of pangolin scales, and the sentence will be served concurrently.
Other convicts are Yanwu Zhuo – total of seven years in prison (possession of rhino horn); and Ya Shen Zhuo – total of seven years in prison (possession of rhino horn).
Chinese national Jinfu Zeng got a total of total five years in prison (five years for possession of pangolin scales and three years for possession of worked ivory, to be served concurrently) while Guohua Zhang got a total three years in prison (possession of worked ivory).
Another Chinese national, Guozhong Zhang, has been sentenced to three years in prison (two years for possession of pangolin scales and three years for possession of worked ivory, to be served concurrently).
Two Malawians were also part of the group jailed on Monday and they are Cosmas Sakugwa – total 1.5 years in prison (possession of worked ivory); and Steven Daza – total 1.5 years in prison (possession of hippo teeth).
Meanwhile, Malawi’s Director of National Parks & Wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa has hailed the successful prosecution of the nine people saying wildlife criminals can expect to feel the full weight of the law.
He said: “The message needs to be loud and clear: Malawi is no longer a playground for the likes of the Lin-Zhang syndicate that exploit our natural heritage, damage our economy, incite corruption and pose a risk to national security. This is indeed a victory for the Malawi – and a victory for wildlife in particular.”
Environmental Investigation Agency EIA Executive Director Mary Rice said Malawi has demonstrated political will and determination to dismantle one of Africa’s most prolific organised international crime syndicates.
She said: “Fighting crime on this scale demands sophistication, collaboration, courage and tenacity. Malawi should be immensely proud – and other African countries currently battling the scourge of illegal wildlife trade would do well to follow this example of global leadership.”