Vietnamese jailed for 15 months for smuggling rhino horns worth more than $1 million

An unemployed man from Vietnam was jailed for 15 months on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014, for having eight pieces of black rhinoceros horn (pictured) worth more than $1 million while in transit at Changi Airport. The horn in the foreground was found as thre
An unemployed man from Vietnam was jailed for 15 months on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014, for having eight pieces of black rhinoceros horn (pictured) worth more than $1 million while in transit at Changi Airport. The horn in the foreground was found as three separate pieces. -- PHOTO: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

An unemployed man from Vietnam was jailed for 15 months on Thursday for having eight pieces of black rhinoceros horn worth more than $1 million while in transit at Changi Airport. This is the first case of its kind in Singapore.

Pham Anh Tu, 23, admitted ownership of the 21.5kg of the endangered species horns without valid permits issued by Mozambique and the competent authority of Vietnam, the intended destination, while in transit at Changi Airport Terminal 2 last Friday. The value of the seized rhinoceros horns can potentially fetch up to almost US$1.4 million (S$1.77 million), based on an estimated US$65,000 per kilogram.

An Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority prosecutor said Pham was in transit at the airport when an X-ray of his checked-in luggage showed images which looked like ivory. Pham was waiting to catch a flight to Vientiane, Laos. Investigation showed that Pham borrowed money to travel to Uganda in October last year to look for business opportunities. During his stay there, he was told that there is a black market for ivory and rhino horns in Mozambique. He returned home empty-handed. About a month later, he left for Mozambique and bought eight rhino horns for US$15,000.

The court heard he brought the rhino horns to Uganda. On Jan 8, he left Uganda for Vietnam via a flight to Laos. He made transit stops in Dubai and Singapore. Pham arrived in Singapore on Jan 9 and was waiting for his connecting flight when he was caught.

AVA prosecuting officer Yap Teck Chuan pressed for a stiff sentence to send a clear message to those who may commit similar offences or use Singapore as a conduit for smuggling endangered species protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which Singapore is a signatory of.

The maximum penalty is a $500,000 fine and two years' jail.

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