Cape Town – South Africa is increasingly being used as a country of transit for the illegal ivory trade – and the two most recent ivory smuggling convictions in Cape Town show that commercial storage facilities in the city are being used as places to keep and pack the elephant tusks for export.
In both cases, Chinese citizens were involved.
But in this week’s case, the Chinese man, known only as “Harry”, was a shadowy figure in the background, who had used a local man to receive and pack the 46 tusks for export.
Court documents showed the tusks were stored at the U-Store storage facilities on the way to Cape Town International Airport.
It was there that Thabit Chilwan of Lansdowne hid the tusks in containers under boxes of wine. They were to be exported to Hong Kong and the deal was that he would be paid once the tusks arrived. A fellow accused, Faizil Fortune from Kenilworth, had charges against him withdrawn in the Khayelitsha Regional Court.
In September last year, the same court convicted Chinese national Cheng Jie Liang of the illegal possession of one ton of ivory. Liang, too, had kept and packed the ivory in two units at a commercial storage facility, Storage Spot, in Milnerton.
Chilwan’s stash represented at least 23 dead elephants and Liang’s, working on the number of tusk tips, represented 34 elephants.
Liang, who got the highest penalty ever imposed for illegal ivory possession – 10 years’ jail time and a R5 million fine – had been living in South Africa since 2003.
His wife and child had returned to China after he was arrested. His cellphone showed he was in direct contact with someone in China, to whom he had sent cellphone photographs of the ivory being packed at the storage unit. This proved to be a crucial piece of evidence, as it placed him at the scene where the illegal packing was taking place.
Chilwan’s story was different. He is the father of four boys, two of whom have rare, chronic diseases that required constant and expensive medical treatment.
Court papers said this had caused him a great financial burden. He became involved with “Harry” the Chinese ivory smuggler. The court recognised that the case had affected Chilwan, that he had problems in his family, and that he had shown remorse.
But magistrate Johan Venter said the South African community regarded ivory smuggling seriously and sentenced Chilwan to10 years in jail, suspended for five years, and a R1m fine.
Traffic, the international wildlife trade monitoring network, estimates that global confiscations of illegal wildlife represent only about 10 percent of the trade.
Wildlife trafficking, estimated to be worth $23 billion (R268.5bn) a year, ranks fourth after drugs, weapons and human trafficking.
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