Hong Kong man indicted in US for smuggling protected turtles overseas: DOJ

Hong Kong man indicted in US for smuggling protected turtles overseas: DOJ


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A Hong Kong man was indicted by a federal grand jury on Friday for allegedly smuggling eastern box turtles – which are a protected wildlife species – from the U.S. to China, to be put on the black market.

The Department of Justice announced that 53-year-old Sai Keung Tin of Hong Kong has been charged with four counts of exporting merchandise contrary to law.

Although Tin was indicted on Friday, he was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City on Feb. 25.

The indictment alleges that in June 2023, Tin knowingly and illegally aided in the exportation of 40 eastern box turtles from the U.S. to Hong Kong.

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Sai Keung Tin of Hong Kong allegedly sent eastern box turtles wrapped in socks, in packages from the U.S. to China. (USFWS)

Boxes containing the turtles and addressed to “Ji Yearlong,” an alias believed to be used by Tin, were intercepted at an international mail facility in Torrance, California, court documents claim.

Tin is accused of falsely labeling the packages as almonds and chocolate cakes to throw inspectors off.

Three of the boxes contained up to 12 live turtles bound in socks, according to the allegations, and a fourth box contained seven live turtles and one deceased turtle.

Agents also claim the sender on each package was fake.

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Turtles wrapped in socks

Sai Keung Tin of Hong Kong allegedly sent eastern box turtles wrapped in socks, in packages from the U.S. to China. (USFWS)

The eastern box turtle is a subspecies of the common box turtle and can be found in forested regions of the eastern U.S., though there are isolated populations in the Midwest.

The foreign pet trade black market places a high value on turtles with colorful markings, especially in places like Hong Kong and China, the DOJ said.

But the eastern box turtle is protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which is an international agreement in place to protect fish, wildlife and plants that could be, or are threatened with becoming extinct.

Both China and the U.S. are parties that signed off on the agreement.

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DOJ Headquarters

A sign outside the U.S. Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The allegations included in the affidavit filed with the criminal complaint against Tin claim he was an associate of Kang Juntao of Hangzhou City, China. Juntao is a convicted felon and international turtle smuggler who recruited turtle poachers and suppliers in the U.S. to assist with shipping turtles to middlemen. The middlemen would then bundle the turtles with other packages and send them to Hong Kong.

The DOJ claims the turtles were bound in socks so they could not move and alert authorities to their presence, but also to protect their shells.

Between June 2017 and December 2018, Kang was responsible for the shipment of at least 1,500 turtles from the U.S. to Hong Kong. The total value of the turtles was estimated to exceed $2.25 million.

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In March 2019, Kang pleaded guilty to money laundering after being extradited from Malaysia and was sentenced to 38 months in federal prison.

Federal authorities continue to intercept packages to Tin and others, despite Kang’s conviction.

If Tin is found guilty of the crimes, he faces up to 10 years in prison for each smuggling count.



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