South Korean plant poacher jailed in US

Kim Byungsu admitted digging up US$150,000 worth of Dudleya succulents from remote parks in northern California. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A South Korean man who travelled around the world stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of plants to smuggle to Asia was jailed in the US on Thursday (Jan 20).

Kim Byungsu admitted digging up US$150,000 (S$202,000) worth of Dudleya succulents from remote parks in northern California.

The plant, which grows in bud-like circles and resembles an artichoke, is native to the rugged coastlines of Oregon and northern California.

It is popular in East Asia, where it is used for decoration.

A court in Los Angeles heard how Kim and his accomplices swiped thousands of the succulents from several state parks in 2018, before boxing them up and claiming they were purchased legally in San Diego.

The shipment was intercepted before it left the United States.

Kim was arrested and his passport was seized, but he later convinced the South Korean consulate to issue a new document, claiming his original had been lost.

He fled abroad but was arrested and convicted in South Africa for illegally harvesting plants native to that country for export to Asia.

Prosecutors who extradited Kim in 2020 said his raid on California's flora was not an isolated incident, and that he had travelled to the US more than 50 times.

"Customs records show that he was travelling for succulent-related purposes and often with tens of thousands of dollars in cash (sometimes declared, sometimes not) and fake phytosanitary certificates," they said.

Kim admitted to one count of attempting to export plants taken in violation of state law. He was jailed for two years.

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