Qiang Wang, a.k.a. Jeffrey Wang, 34, a New York antiques dealer, pled guilty on August 7 in Manhattan federal court to conspiracy to smuggle Asian artifacts made from rhinoceros horns and ivory and to violate wildlife trafficking laws. Wang was arrested in February 2013 as part of Operation Crash, a nationwide crackdown in the illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns, for his role in smuggling libation cups carved from rhinoceros horns from New York to Hong Kong and China. (“Crash” is an alternate term for a “herd” of rhinoceros.)
Because of their dwindling populations, all rhinoceros and elephant species are protected under international trade agreements and under United States and international law. Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by over 170 countries.
According to court records, between approximately January 2011 and February 2013, Wang conspired with at least two Chinese nationals to smuggle objects containing rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory out of the United States, knowing that it was illegal to export such items without the required permits. According to information filed on June 13 in federal court, Wang would visit auction houses in New York and elsewhere to “locate, purchase, transport, and receive objects made from and containing rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory.” He would receive money from accounts in China to buy the objects and then smuggle the objects out of the country, using the United States Postal Service and other mail services.
Wang spent $1,159,500 at an auction in New York City on September 14, 2011, buying three libation cups, court papers stated. (Sotheby’s held a Chinese works of art sale on that date that included eight rhinoceros libation cups, selling from $80,500 to $722,500 each.) Wang made and used false U.S. Customs Declarations for the packages containing rhinoceros horn and ivory objects in order to conceal the true contents of the packages and did not declare them to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service or U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as required under U.S. law and international trade agreements.
Wang, who operated his antiques business as Bao Qing Lou Gallery Inc. out of his Flushing, New York, apartment, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Under the terms of the plea agreement, items recovered from his apartment, including an ivory statue found hidden behind his bed, will be forfeited. He is scheduled to be sentenced on October 25.
Operation Crash is a continuing investigation being conducted by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with other federal and local law enforcement agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, as an ongoing effort to detect, deter, and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns.
Originally published in the September 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest