Smugglers and Poachers will Face Trial
This operation of prosecution and special services was a result of 6-months work when the whole chain of catch, collection and abroad shipment of derivates was revealed. The total damage to the Far Eastern nature was huge: around 900 bear paws of brown and black bears, 4 tiger skins and more than 60 kilos of tiger bones, 531 saiga horns. Commercial damage according to expert estimation is more than 200 000 USD.
The first time smugglers were caught up by law-enforcement services in January 2007. The car stuffed with wildlife derivates was stopped by police services on the road to Khorol village in Primorye. The elderly driver couldn’t convince the police that it was not potatoes and the car was inspected. The cabin was stuffed with 8 bags of bear paws, 3 tiger skins, several horns and various fragments of different animals’ carcasses. The precious cargo was confiscated. The driver was only the carrier and didn’t give any certain information regarding the cargo. This is how the first actor in the chain, Zubenko, (the name is changed) was revealed. It was clear that he managed the logistics of the process from the Russian side.
This is how the second key actor came into stage. The buyer and main executer was the Chinese citizen, whose Russian given name was Kolya. From monitored telephone calls it became clear that Kolya used to visit attractions of Ussuriisk (one of the big cities of Primorye). Thus, he was monitored by police. Kolya was responsible for collection of derivates on the territory of the whole region. While “traveling” to Anuchino, Arsenyev, Yakovlevsky and Krasnoarmeysky districts of Primorye he found executants of his orders and gave money to poachers and collected derivates. Zubenko was responsible for unhampered activity of the Chinese citizen and cargo transporting.
The second episode was in March. While monitoring telephone calls, police found out the dates of second transportation of derivates to China. It was planned that the cargo packed on sledges would be transported with snow mobiles across the frozen Khanka Lake to China. The seizure operation was held at night, the sledges with the cargo were confiscated, but the criminals managed to leave the site on snow mobiles. This seizure brought 120 bear paws.
After two fiascos, Kolya became very nervous. In order to rehabilitate in front of Chinese partners, he had to transport a big shipment of wildlife products to China. The ordering party wanted something special. It was decided that it would be tiger skin and tiger bones set. The tiger was supposed to be killed by a hunter from Anuchino. Simultaneously, main products were being collected across the whole region. On Ussuriisk market, where all connections between poachers and smugglers are being established and through which the selling of all derivates from the Far Eastern region is being held, Kolya found middlemen and executants for a big order of bear paws. During several months he traveled across the region and meet in person.
By the end of summer the shipment was prepared. In order not to be taken by road police, two acting big bosses from police were “hired” by Kolya. The police provided “green light” for smugglers on the road. This is how the cargo reached the Khanka Lake; several kilometers to Chinese border were left.
The only “safe” way to transport the cargo was by water. To cross the lake without encumbrances, border tracking system needed to be switched off. Zubenko involved other person from Turyi Rog village whose task was to switch off the circuit breaker thus leaving the border with no control. The smugglers were lucky with the weather - the moon was bright with clear sky. By no accident all officers from military units left for trainings. Officers from riot squad were brought to the place of planned cargo transshipment. The operation took several minutes. All accomplices were caught barehanded. Besides derivates, money was found. Kolya was planning to settle all accounts with 9 thousand US dollars.
Now all accomplices of interethnic group are waiting to face the trial. They are under accusation for smuggling and illegal border crossing, executed by a group of people. They could be sentenced to 7 to 12 years.
During 2007 WWF repeatedly informed public about seizures of contrabands of wildlife products destined to China. In most cases, WWF and TRAFFIC experts were attracted to do expert advice of detained products and later were assisting in investigation process of the criminal case. The last biggest seizure of derivates WWF reported about (bear paws, tiger skin and tiger bones set) occurred on the Khanka Lake in August 2007.
“It is extremely important that government services have created the precedent of combating with contraband trafficking of wildlife products, – reports Sergey Aramilev, biodiversity conservation officer, WWF Russia Amur branch, - the least is left – to wait for the court decision. This precedent will teach lesson to others. The passing of the criminal case to the court means that government doesn’t differentiate between economic crimes and crimes against nature. We cannot revive killed animals, but we managed to cut a big contraband channel and enforce control on the Sino-Russian border”.
The full report is published by the newspaper “Vladivostok” on February 12 http://www.vladnews.ru/2288/Zakon/Medvezhja_tropa_perekryta with reference to the 304 Military Investigation Department of Investigation Committee, Russian Federation Prosecution of Far Eastern Navy that was investigating the criminal case. WWF acknowledges head of this Department Oleg Makarenko for his work and given information and comments.
Amur tiger is registered in I appendix, CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and international Red Data Book
Saiga - II appendix, CITES, international Red Data Book
Black bear – I appendix, CITES
Brown bear – II appendix, CITES. Catch, purchase, selling, transportation and export from Russian Federation of Red Data book species and I appendix species are prohibited.