Two people from Democratic Republic of Congo have been arrested in the United States for illegal wildlife trafficking, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Herdade Lokua, 23, and Jospin Mujangi, 31, both of Kinshasa, were arrested last week in Seattle, Washington. They were indicted by a federal grand jury on 11 charges of conspiracy, money laundering, smuggling, and Lacey Act violations for trafficking elephant ivory and white rhinoceros horn.
The Lacey Act is the oldest wildlife trafficking law in the U.S. and prohibits, among other things, falsely labeling shipments containing wildlife.
U.S. officials say the two worked with others to ship about five pounds of rhino horn to Seattle in May. They previously shipped about 49 pounds of ivory to the West Coast city in 2020. They were arrested after returning to Washington state to negotiate the shipment of more than two tons of elephant ivory, a ton of pangolin scales, and a number of intact rhinoceros horns.
Authorities say the ivory was cut into smaller pieces and painted black, and then mixed with ebony wood in order to get the freight through customs. The buyer paid the Congolese defendants US$14,500 for the ivory and $18,000 for the horn. The pangolin deal was never completed with a shipment.
The rhino, elephant and pangolin all are listed as protected species under international CITES treaty.
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.