Head of global crime ring to face NY trial for trafficking rhino horns, feds say

Photo from office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York

A Malaysian man accused of leading a global crime syndicate was extradited to the U.S. on Oct. 7 to face trafficking charges, according to officials.

Teo Boon Ching, 57, has been charged in connection with conspiring to traffic over 160 pounds of endangered rhinoceros horns valued at $725,000, a violation of U.S. laws and several international treaties. He will appear before a judge on Oct. 7, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Ching’s alleged smuggling organization, which operated across multiple continents, “enrich[ed] poachers responsible for the senseless illegal slaughter of numerous endangered rhinoceros, and further[ed] the market for these illicit products,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in the release.

Working as a middleman, Ching dealt with poachers in Africa and buyers in Asia, charging a “per-kilogram fee” for his transport services, according to the release.

He transported horns of black rhinos, an endangered species of which only a few thousand animals remain, as well as white rhinos, classified as near threatened by the World Wildlife Fund. He also said he could export horns to the United States, according to the release.

During the summer of 2019, an unknown individual, at the behest of law enforcement, purchased 12 horns from Ching using funds from an account in New York. He then delivered the horns to undercover law enforcement officials in Bangkok, Thailand, according to the release. He was later arrested in Thailand before being sent to the United States to stand trial.

Ching has been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking, which has a maximum sentence of five years in prison, in addition to two counts of money laundering, which has a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, according to the release.

An attorney for Ching could not be reached for comment by McClatchy News.

Demand for rhino horns largely comes from China and Vietnam, where some believe the horns have wide-ranging health benefits, according to Save The Rhino International, a conservation group.

Several hundred African rhino horns enter the global market each year, though overall rhino poaching rates have declined in recent years, possibly as a result of the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns and restrictions, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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