Ning Qui pled guilty in federal court Friday, July 16, for attempting to illegally smuggle wildlife from the United States to China.
Qui, a 43-year old Frisco resident and a seven year Asian art appraiser, was apprehended as a part of “Operation Crash”, a nationwide effort to investigate and prosecute individuals that participate in black market trade of rhinoceros horns and other protected species.
Qui was one of three antique dealers who attempted to smuggle wildlife items to Hong Kong. The 'boss' of the operation, Zhifei Li, was to arrange the financing and negotiate the price for the objects.
“This is yet another step toward dismantling a sophisticated and global network of criminals whose greed is driving endangered animals to extinction,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Hirsch. “We will continue to investigate and bring to justice those involved in the illicit trade of the world’s wildlife and will work with our international partners to battle the poaching, corruption, and transnational crime that goes along with it.”
Qui purchased and smuggled five raw rhinoceros horns from 2009 and 2013, wrapping them in duct tape, hiding them in porcelain vases and falsely labeling them as porcelain vases or handicrafts. Li admitted to selling raw rhinoceros horns worth $3 million to factories in China.
“This guilty plea by another participant in one of the largest criminal trafficking rings we’ve ever investigated – as well as the unprecedented jail time given to the rings’ leader last month – serves notice to other poachers and smugglers that we are clamping down hard on those who break international wildlife laws,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Ashe. “Working with the Department of Justice and other federal and international law enforcement agencies, we will continue to relentlessly pursue criminals whose greed and indifference to life are fueling the continued slaughter of rhinos and other vulnerable species in the wild.”
The rhinoceros is a prehistoric herbivorous species and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth. All species of rhinoceros are protected under U.S. and international law.
In China, the horns are carved into fake antiques, and used in the traditions of drinking from “libation cups”. The cups are believed to bring good health, and are precious to collectors. They are also used for medicinal purposes, even though they are made from the same material in human hair and nails - keratin.
The government and sentencing judge will have Qiu serve a 25-month prison sentence and pay a $150,000 fine.