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Indictments in Smuggling of Elephant Ivory

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Two men have been indicted on charges of running a smuggling business bringing African elephant ivory into the United States, part of a multibillion-dollar black market in wildlife that continues to decimate an African elephant population now numbering less than 500,000.

Samart Chokchoyma of Thailand had access to elephant ivory and used his eBay account to sell the ivory to Moun Chau of Montclair, Calif., according to the indictment. Chokchoyma shipped elephant tusks to Chau and listed in the Customs declaration that the shipment was a gift of "toys," authorities said.

The indictment claims that the two men agreed to "knowingly import and bring merchandise, namely, elephant ivory, into the United States" without a valid U.S. import permit or re-export permit from Thailand.

The alleged smuggling also violated the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which protect the African elephant and raw and carved ivory.

The Congressional Research Service claims that international wildlife smuggling generates between $5 to $20 billion per year. The demand for illegal wildlife in the U.S. is likely to parallel the demand for legal wildlife, making the U.S. "a significant destination for illegal wildlife, and the magnitude of the illegal trade may be increasing," officials said.

The indictment estimates the value of elephant ivory at $121 to $900 per kilogram.

The African elephant population has decreased from about 1.2 million in the '70s to less than 500,000 today.

Chokchoyma and Chau face 11 counts, including conspiracy, the illegal offer to sale endangered species in interstate and foreign commerce, importing wildlife contrary to law, and entry of goods by false statement.Chau faces up to 25 years in federal prison if convicted. Chokchoyma could be sentenced to as many as 53 years in prison if extradited from Thailand.

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