Faustine Kapama, The Daily News
The decision by Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court in Dar es Salaam to convict the “Queen of Ivory,” Chinese Yang Feng Clan, of smuggling elephant tusks offences and sentenced to 17 years imprisonment has been received positively by the World, a move that will send shockwaves through organised criminal networks. Our Staff Writer Faustine Kapama who has been following up the trial reports . . .
Investigators say that Clan, originally from Beijing, arrived in Tanzania in the 1970’s. She was one of the first Chinese students to graduate in Swahili and worked as a translator for Tazara, the Tanzania-Zambia Railway project that China was helping to fund and build. After the railway was completed in 1975, Clan, nicknamed as the “Ivory Queen” due to her conduct of dealing in a strong network of smuggling ivory, returned to Beijing to work in the government’s foreign trade department.
It is reported that in 1998, Clan decided to set up business in Tanzania. She rented a two-storey building in downtown Dar-es- Salaam. Opening a Chinese restaurant on the ground floor and establishing an investment company, Beijing Great Wall Investment, on the floor above. The restaurant proved to be a success, but she is quoted as telling China Daily in 2014 that, “Now I do not count on the restaurant to make money. Instead, I see it as a place where people from China and Tanzania can communicate, get to know more friends and conduct information exchanges.”
By 2012 she was secretary general of the Tanzania China-Africa Business Council. “I know I should have retired, but whenever I think that my language advantage and network can help many Chinese and Tanzanians and increase mutual trust and confidence, I do not want to stop. I myself am the best illustration of China-Tanzania friendship,” she is further quoted as saying in 2014.
But at the same time, investigators say, Ms Yang was a major player in a far darker relationship developing between Tanzania and China-the illegal ivory trade. They say she was a key link between poachers in East Africa and buyers in China for more than a decade. Having been suspected of involving in illegal trade of ivory, the Tanzania’s National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit tracked her for more than a year.
She was arrested after a high-speed car chase in October 2015. The arrest of Clan, who is connected to various companies abroad, all Chinese-owned, and circulates in the upper echelons of Chinese citizens living and working in Tanzania, was welcomed by wildlife groups because most of the time those arrested are smalltime smugglers.
“It’s the news that we all have been waiting for, for years,” Andrea Crosta, co-founder of the US based Elephant Action League, says adding, “We must put an end to the time of the untouchables if we want to save the elephant.”
Subsequent to such arrest, the prosecution took to court the ivory queen alongside two Tanzanians, Manase Philemon and Salvius Matembo, charged with three counts of leading organised crime and dealing in 860 elephant tusks, which are government trophies, valued at over 13 bn/-.
The prosecution, led by a strong team comprising of Principal State Attorney Faraja Nchimbi and Paul Kadushi. As well as State Attorneys Wankyo Simon and Salim Msemo, led 11 witnesses to prove the charges against the Chinese national and her accomplices. On February 12, 2019, Principal Resident Magistrate Huruma Shaidi, who conducted the trial, delivered the court’s judgment, convicting all the accused persons of the charges they were facing.
He sentenced each of them to 15 years imprisonment for leading organised crime. The magistrate further also sentenced each of the trio to either pay a fine of two times the market value of the elephant tusks. Or go to jail for two years in default of paying for unlawful dealing in the trophies, which are equivalent to 430 elephants that were killed in connection to the case.
In addition to the custodian sentences, the magistrate also ordered the confiscation to the government, the farm that was owned by the Chinese national at Muheza District in Tanga Region. Having been proved by the prosecution that it was used to hide the elephant tusks for illegal export outside the country.
According to Associated Press, China backed Tanzania’s Court verdict of sentencing of the Chinese woman and reaffirmed its opposition to trading in endangered species. Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang is quoted as saying that China supports the Tanzanian authorities in conducting a “just” investigation and trial and is “ready to work with the international community to protect wildlife and curb the international trade.”
The Chinese woman’s case was viewed as a major test of Africa- wide efforts to hold key trafficking figures accountable for the mass killing of elephants to supply ivory to illegal markets, including in China. After more than three years of uncertainty and delays in the case, conservation organisations say the sentence sends a strong message to traffickers.
“The government is taking wildlife trafficking very seriously. The sentencing is testament that nobody in Tanzania is above the law,” says Krissie Clark, the executive director of PAMS Foundation. A nonprofit organisation that fights crime against wildlife and supported the Tanzanian taskforce that arrested Yang. It is said that such landmark ruling marks one of the harshest sentences ever handed down to such a high-profile and well-connected Chinese national living in East Africa. But local conservation groups say the election of Tanzanian president John Magufuli in 2015 boosted the fight against poaching.
“An attack on Tanzania’s wildlife is seen as an attack on Tanzania,” said Clark. “None of this would have been possible were it not for the political will of the President, John Magufuli, and his drive to stop wildlife crime and corruption.”
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mr Biswalo Mganga, thanked all stakeholders involved in ensuring justice is done to the accused person. Starting from members of the public who provided information over the crime, arresting and investigation officers, prosecutors and the Judicial system in general. He, however, warned all those involved in the illegal business that they would be pursued, arrested, brought to justice and subsequently punished in accordance with the law.
The DPP was of the view that the government would not hesitate to take measures as required against anybody taking part in poaching activities regardless of his political, social and economic status, as well as the nation he belongs. Anyone who would be arrested, he said, would be punished.
According to him, it was obvious the judgment has played an important role in strengthening the available struggle to ensure such crimes are completely purged. “In this context, we must also remind ourselves that the fight against poaching and illegal trade of elephant tusks is a sensitive issue that requires the collective efforts of all stakeholders in all sectors in particular the entire law industry,” the DPP said.
“It is clear that this judgment is a great victory for partisans and wishing to protect our natural resources, considering that for a long time poaching activities have been going on with the financiers of the rackets and networks continuing with their criminal activities without being interrupted,” he said.
For a long time, he said, such illegal activated have caused huge losses to the government by loosing such rate natural resources and eventually making few individuals, like the accused persons who have been convicted, to continue benefiting alone through poaching and illegal trade of the ivory.
The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Dr Hamis Kigwangalla, wrote in his twitter account saying, “the conviction of the Chinese “Queen of Ivory” is a huge success attained by our government and is a message to all that poaching no longer pays.”
He went on twitting, “I congratulate our team for this well handled investigation and case. I believe Shetani (Satan) and the rest will follow suit.” He assured Tanzanians that poaching activities would end completely by 2022. “(For) elephants has now ceased, it is no more. What has left is for wood and wild meat. We will also stop it. Today when you find an elephant dead, you’ll find it with his teeth, no one to take it,” the minister said.
In the past, it has been rare to see poaching ringleaders arrested and convicted, but since the creation of an elite national multiagency task force in the country, there has been a massive crackdown on poaching, as in the past four years, several poaching rings have been dismantled. The decline in poaching in Tanzania has also been aided by recent strides by the Chinese government.
In 2018, China, which has long been one of the world’s biggest ivory markets, banned all trade in ivory and ivory products in the country. African elephant population declined to 415,000 in 2016, a drop of 111,000 in just a decade, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The World Wide Fund for Nature also says Tanzania lost 60 percent of its elephants in just five years. Wildlife Officer with the Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources Kiiza Baraga told a Dar es Salaam Court during sentencing hearing of the Chinese woman that the number of elephants crashed from 109,000 in 2009 to just 43,000 in 2014.
China has long been one of the world’s biggest consumers of ivory, where they are used in medicine or in ornaments and jewelry. But even though Beijing instituted a ban in late December 2017 on all ivory and ivory products, that hasn’t stopped increased amounts of African ivory from being traded in China.