By Kanishka Singh
– Two people from the Democratic Republic of Congo have been arrested in the United States and indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly trafficking elephant ivory and white rhinoceros horn from DRC to Seattle, the Justice Department said on Monday.
“Herdade Lokua, 23, and Jospin Mujangi, 31, of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, were arrested on Nov. 3 outside of Seattle,” the department said in a statement.
On Nov. 4, a federal grand jury indicted them for conspiracy, money laundering, smuggling and legal violations for the trafficking, according to the statement.
The 11-count indictment alleges that Lokua and Mujangi worked with a middleman to smuggle four packages into the United States.
In August and September 2020, the defendants allegedly sent three shipments containing a total of about 49 pounds of ivory by air freight to Seattle, the DOJ said.
In May, they allegedly sent another package with about five pounds of rhinoceros horn. A buyer paid the defendants $14,500 for the ivory and $18,000 for the horn, according to the department.
According to the indictment, Lokua and Mujangi also sold 55 pounds of pangolin scales to a U.S. buyer but ultimately did not ship them.
The World Wildlife Organization says the meat of the pangolin, often known as the “scaly anteater,” is considered a delicacy and their scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine, making them among the most-trafficked mammal in the world.
The two discussed sending larger shipments of ivory, rhinoceros horn and pangolin scales by ocean freight containers. On Nov. 2, they arrived in Washington State to negotiate the details of such a deal and were arrested in Edmonds, the DOJ said.
Reuters could not immediately contact the representatives of Lokua and Mujangi.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment for the smuggling and money laundering charges and five years for the conspiracy and Lacey Act violations, the Justice Department said. The Lacey Act prohibits, among other things, falsely labeling shipments containing wildlife.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler)