The trial of nine defendants charged with importing, possessing, transporting and exporting elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn as part of an organized gang opens this September 6, 2021 in the Rennes Criminal Court. Three defendants are on the run and an arrest warrant has been issued against them. The investigation also led to the discovery of two workshops processing raw ivory and rhino horn on French soil. The 9 defendants are of Irish and English, Vietnamese and Chinese origin. They declare to be second-hand dealers, antique dealers, employees in the construction industry, manager of an import-export company, cook, computer specialist or unemployed.
The facts go back in particular to the night of September 10 to 11, 2015 when the customs of Poitiers check the three passengers of a BMW on the National 10 and find inside the vehicle 4 elephant tusks without any document justifying their legality, without any tangible element of traceability as well as 32,800 € in cash. The individuals are known to be members of the Rathkeale Rovers, a clan from Ireland engaging in roving crime in the European Union, the United Kingdom and the USA.
On May 25, 2016, investigators from the SNDJ (National Judicial Customs Service) seized in Seine-Saint-Denis, North Paris, in the warehouse operated by one of the defendants 14 raw ivory tusks of African origin and 2 worked tusks without any document justifying their legal origin and with a total weight of 212 kg.
On November 15, 2016, in a room of the B&B hotel in Creil near to Paris, two brothers of Irish and English origin were intercepted with a rhinoceros horn of exceptional weight (14.7 kg) devoid of any document justifying its legal origin. The seizure took place close to the “Dragon de Saint-Maximin”, a Chinese restaurant whose manager is one of the defendants.
The investigation showed that several auction houses in Cannes, Toulouse, and Le Puy facilitated the export of elephant tusks to Vietnam by invoicing with an address in Vietnam raw tusks that were supposedly not allowed to legally leave the European Union.
In the course of the investigation, 32 raw ivory tusks and 11 worked tusks were seized. Some of the tusks were from young elephants and some of the ivory was recent, dating back to the 1990s and 2000s.
At the time of the events, the retail value of a kilo of ivory on the Asian market was around 5,000 US$ per kilo and rhino horn was retailing for 1,000 US$ per gram.
Before smuggling, its bargaining and swindles, there is poaching with its cruelties. Wildlife trafficking also contributes to the destructuring and impoverishment of ecosystems, encourages speculation in elephant ivory and rhino horns and thus stimulates poaching. Since 2013, the NGO Robin des Bois has published “On the Trail” (1), the defaunation’s quarterly bulletin reporting on poaching and smuggling of endangered animals around the world. “On the Trail” regularly analyzes elephant ivory and rhino horn smuggling routes from Europe, seizures in France on Vietnamese and Chinese nationals, seizures in Vietnam and China of ivory and horn from France, and the actions of the Rathkeale Rovers.
At the time of the notification of the referral order to the criminal court, on June 5, 2020, only the NGO Robin des Bois was civil party.
According to the Customs Code, the Environmental Code and the Penal Code, the defendants are liable to 3 to 10 years imprisonment and fines of 75,000 € to 750,000 € up to 10 times the domestic market value of the seizures. The hearings will take place until September 8, 2021.
(1) https://robindesbois.org/en/a-la-trace-bulletin-dinformation-et-danalyses-sur-le-braconnage-et-la-contrebande/ 
Cf. also, “L’Atlas du Business des Espèces Menacées” written by Robin des Bois and published by Editions Arthaud in October 2019 (In French only).
Home page picture: © Andrea Schieber