DAR ES SALAAM
The elderly Chinese woman dubbed the “Ivory Queen”, arrested in Tanzania over links to $2.5 million (Sh5.4 billion) smuggled ivory, has been charged.
Ms Yang Fenglan, 66, has been accused of smuggling 706 elephant tusks from Tanzania between 2000 and May 2014.
According to The Citizen, Ms Yang was on the radar for over a year before an elite unit set up to fight poaching pounced on her last week in a car chase in Dar es Salaam.
She was charged on Wednesday, and could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Ms Yang was charged at the Kisutu court alongside Tanzanians Salvius Matembo and Manase Philemon.
She is alleged to have operated in Tanzania for 14 years as the main link between poachers and international buyers.
She has allegedly been financing people who have been killing elephants in protected areas, and she bought elephant tusks and supplied them to other people engaged in the illegal trade in ivory.
State Attorney Nassor Katuga told the court that the accused committed the offence between January 1, 2000 and May 22, 2014.
According to Mr Katuga, Ms Yang was involved in the smuggling and trading of 706 elephant tusks weighing 1,889 kilogrammes worth Sh5.4 billion without a licence from the director of wildlife.
The Citizen reported that the woman masked her business behind a successful restaurant business and horticultural farming.
She has apparently been in the country most of the time since the 1970s and even has a daughter who is married to a Tanzanian.
Sources working closely with the National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU), and who preferred anonymity, told The Citizen that her arrest was a major breakthrough in the fight against poaching that has seen Tanzania’s elephant population plummet by 40 per cent in a decade.
The woman is not a newcomer to Tanzania. She first came to the country in 1975 and she had visited on and off until 1997, when she decided to settle down here.
According to the source, Ms Yang speaks fluent Kiswahili. She is a graduate of China’s Beijing Foreign Studies University, where she studied Kiswahili between 1971 and 1974.
Sources close to the NTSCIU said Ms Yang has a big farm in Muheza District that she bought in 2009.
She uses the 10-hectare farm to grow hot pepper, which she exports to her native China.
Stories of her involvement in poaching and the ivory trade reached the NTSCIU after its officers arrested one of her accomplices in June 2014.
However, the source told The Citizen that Ms Yang was extensively involved in the ivory trade between 2007 and 2013.
“During interrogation, her accomplice told us that he used to sell the trophies to Ms Yang after collecting the cargo from various parts of the country,” the source said.
“It took investigators about a year to arrest her. The cops began tracking her in April 2014 and managed to arrest her in September this year in Dar es Salaam,” added the source.
NTSCIU officers believe Ms Yang has a broad network of poachers and ivory smugglers.
“She has a wide network and links with ivory brokers and international traffickers. Ivory brokers who collected ivory from the field used to sell the consignment to her,” said the source.
The source said Ms Yang has links with fellow Chinese citizens who owned firms engaged in fishing and exporting sea cucumbers.
“The smugglers export sea cucumbers together with the ivory and label their consignment as sea cucumbers exports,” added the source.
According to the source, the ivory traffickers used to smuggle the contraband through the Dar es Salaam port. The dealers shifted to Zanzibar after thorough screening was introduced at the port.
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