On the 1st of March 2020, the Chinese authorities made another step towards bringing a long - standing ivory smuggling case, designated “1.17”, to an end, when Chinese citizen Hu Mouqiang, accused of operating an ivory smuggling syndicate, was extradited to China from Ghana.
Chinese state news showed Hu, clad in a hazmat suit, marched through Baiyun International Airport in Guangzhou, blindfolded and handcuffed. Hu stands accused of having smuggled almost 30 tons of ivory into China as part of a gang, part of which has already been brought to justice in 2019.
The “1.17” case refers to an investigation into an ivory smuggling network led by a gang of natives of Fujian Province.
The case started in 2013 when Huangpu Customs in the city of Guangzhou in Guangdong province made a seizure of 4,46 tons of ivory. The main suspects, Fujian Province natives Chen Moucheng, Chen Mouguang and Chen Mouzong, manage to flee China, taking refuge in South East Asia.
In 2018, Chen Mouzong was arrested in China after having entered the country using fake identity documents from an unnamed South East Asian country. Tracking his records, the investigation showed that he repeatedly showed up in the port city of Wuwei on the Yangtze River, in Anhui Province.
In 2019, in Wuwei, the police intercepted phone calls where the callers, speaking with Fujian accents, used known codewords for ivory – “rice wine”, and “empress”. In a subsequent raid on an abandoned factory in Wuwei, the police seized 7.48 tons of ivory in the form of 2,748 tusks. The factory belonged to a man with surname Zhang who, according to the state media “is associated with mining business and ivory smuggling in Africa.”
In this operation, that included 238 officers from multiple cities, 20 suspects were arrested. The seized ivory had been smuggled into China in February 2018 via the Port of Yantai in Shandong Province and then transported to Wuwei by river transport on the Yangtze.
The ivory is thought to be have been purchased in Nigeria and transported to China in shipping containers. Various methods, such as such forged paperwork and concealment in consignments of other goods, were used to evade customs.
The extradition of Hu Mouqiang, who is referred to as one of the leaders in the Fujian smuggling gang, is lauded as a breakthrough by Chinese law enforcement. Before his extradition into China, Hu was arrested in December 2020 in Ghana when he entered the country from an unspecified destination.
Hu’s relationship with the rest of the ivory smuggling gang, including the factory owner Zhang, and the Chen clan, is unclear. Wu Bin, deputy chief of Huangpu Customs Smuggling Investigations Bureau, in an interview to China Central Television, said that Hu was responsible for purchasing the ivory in Africa, storing it, and then
sending it to China.