Infamous ivory, rhinoceros horn poacher and drug trafficker Abubakar Mansur Mohammed Surur alias Mansour when he appeared before Milimani law courts on September 30, 2020. PHOTO | JOSEPH WANGUI | NMG
A 62-year-old Kenyan man who pleaded guilty to poaching charges in a US court and his accomplices made Sh864.8 million in seven years from the illegal sale of ivory and rhinoceros horns.
Documents from a New York federal court have revealed that Abubakar Mansur Mohammed Surur was part of a transnational criminal syndicate that was involved in the large-scale trafficking and smuggling of rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory.
Mr Surur has pleaded guilty to the crimes which involved the illegal poaching of more than 35 rhinoceros and about 100 elephants -- both endangered species -- across seven African countries, including Kenya.
Most of the horns and ivory were from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, and Tanzania.
The prosecutors said that Mr Surur and his accomplices -- Liberian Moazu Kromah and Amara Cherif from Guinea -- made at least Sh397.3 million from the sale of 190 kilogrammes of rhino horns and Sh467.5 million from the approximately 10 tonnes of trafficked ivory.
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“In total, the estimated average retail value of the rhinoceros horn involved in the conspiracy was at least approximately $3.4 million, and the estimated average retail value of the elephant ivory involved in the conspiracy was at least approximately $4 million,” Damian Williams, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a statement.
The Kenyan who was extradited to the US in January last year could face life in prison after he admitted to the crime, which carries a maximum sentence of five years and another count of conspiracy to traffic heroin, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Mr Surur and his accomplices mostly operated in Kampala while their buyers were located in the US and countries in Southeast Asia.
“The defendants received and deposited payments from foreign customers that were sent in the form of international wire transfers, some of which were sent through US financial institutions, and paid in cash,” Mr Williams said.
The statement released by the US attorney said law enforcement agents intercepted a package on March 16, 2018, containing a black rhinoceros horn sold by Mr Surur and his accomplices. The buyer was in Manhattan.
Still in 2018, the accused persons offered to sell additional rhinoceros horns of varying weights, including horns weighing up to seven kilogrammes. The police intercepted the package with two rhinoceros horns on July 17, 2018.
The illegal products were concealed in a package passed as pieces of art such as African masks and statues.
Another Kenyan, Badru Abdul Aziz Saleh is in custody awaiting extradition while an accomplice, Abdi Hussein Ahmed, is still at large with a bounty of up to $1 million for his capture.
Mr Ahmed is also a Kenyan.
Mr Surur was arrested on July 29, 2020, at the Moi International Airport, Mombasa after landing from Yemen on a chartered flight.
He was held briefly as the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji filed proceedings for his extradition to the US, where he was wanted for trafficking in products of endangered wildlife species and heroin charges.
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The US prosecutors accused Mr Surur and his accomplices of being responsible for furthering an industry that illegally slaughters species protected by international agreements around the world.
“One of these defendants also engaged in a narcotics conspiracy involving a large quantity of heroin. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration, these defendants have now pled guilty to the serious and destructive crimes they committed,” the statement added.
A trade involving endangered or threatened species is a violation of the Kenyan and US laws, as well as international treaties.