Tanzania has sentenced Yang Fenglan, a Chinese businesswoman nicknamed the “Ivory Queen”, to 15 years in jail for smuggling hundreds of elephant tusks.
Yang was accused of operating one of Africa’s biggest ivory-smuggling rings, responsible for smuggling $2.5m (£1.9m) worth of tusks from some 400 elephants.
Two Tanzanian men were also found guilty of involvement in the ring.
Ivory poaching is said to have caused a 20% decline in the population of African elephants in the last decade.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global environmental body, says the population of African elephants has fallen to 415,000 – a drop of 110,000 over the last 10 years – as a result of poaching.
The illicit trade is fuelled by demand from China and east Asia, where ivory is used to make jewellery and ornaments.
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Yang was convicted on charges relating to the smuggling of around 800 pieces of ivory between 2000 and 2014 from Tanzania to the Far East.
The Tanzanian men were also jailed for 15 years on similar charges.
The court in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s main city, has ordered Yang’s property to be repossessed.
She had been under investigation for more than a year when she was arrested in 2015, following a high-speed car chase.
At the time of her arrest, Yang was a prominent businesswoman, operating a Chinese restaurant as well as an investment company in Dar es Salaam.
Fluent in Swahili, she had lived and worked in Tanzania since the 1970s, and had served as vice-president of the China-Africa Business Council of Tanzania.
Environmental campaigners welcomed the arrest because she was seen as playing a pivotal role in the illegal ivory trade. Most arrests tend to involve minor players.
DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) – A Tanzanian court sentenced a prominent Chinese businesswoman dubbed the “Ivory Queen” to 15 years in prison on Tuesday for smuggling the tusks of more than 350 elephants to Asia – a big victory in the battle to stamp out poaching in Africa.
Yang Feng Glan had been charged in October 2015 along with two Tanzanian men with smuggling 860 pieces of ivory between 2000 and 2004 worth 13 billion shillings ($5.6 million). She denied the charges.
Police sources said Yang, 69, had lived in Tanzania since the 1970s and was secretary-general of the Tanzania China-Africa Business Council. A Swahili-speaker, she also owns a popular Chinese restaurant in Dar es Salaam.
Kisutu Court Magistrate Huruma Shaidi sentenced Yang, Salivius Matembo and Manase Philemon to 15 years in prison on convictions of leading an organized criminal gang.
Shaidi also ordered them to either pay twice the market value of the elephant tusks or face another two years in prison.
In court documents, prosecutors said Glan “intentionally did organize, manage and finance a criminal racket by collecting, transporting or exporting and selling government trophies” weighing a total of 1.889 tonnes.
Demand for ivory from Asian countries such as China and Vietnam, where it is turned into jewels and ornaments, has led to a surge in poaching across Africa.
Tanzania’s elephant population shrank from 110,000 in 2009 to little more than 43,000 in 2014, according to a 2015 census, with conservation groups blaming “industrial-scale” poaching.
In March 2016, Tanzania sentenced two Chinese men to 35 years each in jail for ivory smuggling, while in December 2015 another court sentenced four Chinese men to 20 years in jail each after they were convicted of smuggling rhino horns.
Reporting by Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Angus MacSwan