A court in east Zhejiang Province on Tuesday sentenced 17 people to prison for smuggling more than 23 tons of pangolin scales into the country from Nigeria.
The scales, worth more than 180 million yuan (US$27.9 million), were smuggled by the gang from Nigeria in three batches in 2018 and 2019, according to the intermediate people’s court in Zhejiang’s Wenzhou City.
The two main suspects, surnamed Yao and Wang, were sentenced to 14 and 13 years in prison, respectively. Other suspects received jail terms ranging from one year and three months to 12 years.
The China Daily had reported last year that custom authorities in Wenzhou found two people selling pangolin scales, which are often used in traditional Chinese medicine, in a black market in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
At the end of October, customs received a tip that a batch of scales would be smuggled into China and those two people would be involved, the publication said.
“A man surnamed Cai purchased pangolin scales in Nigeria and entrusted an overseas smuggling group to transport them to Busan first. Then, the man’s two partners in Wenzhou hired another group to deliver them to Wenzhou via Shanghai,” said Feng Chenxue, an Hangzhou Customs official.
The containers with scales, mixed with slices of ginger, were unloaded at a wharf in Shanghai and then transferred to Wenzhou where local customs authorities seized the containers and caught the suspects, according to Feng.
“The smuggled pangolin scales were wrapped with layers of ginger slices in bags, which makes them hard to detect during routine spot checks,” said Chen Ling, a policeman from Wenzhou Public Security Bureau.
The creature is the world’s most trafficked mammal in the world and its scales are used for medical reasons in Asia despite there being no evidence they can cure ailments.