The Case of the Smuggled Wooden Cribs

NEWARK, New Jersey, April 19, 2008 (ENS) – A Chinese company that manufactures wooden baby furniture and its owner were each indicted Tuesday for smuggling into the United States $15 million worth of furniture made of a tropical hardwood that is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES.

Danny M. Chien, a Taiwanese citizen and resident of Shanghai, China, and Style Craft Furniture Co., Ltd. were indicted by a federal grand jury in Newark, after an investigation conducted by special agents of the Office of the Inspector General, the criminal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to the indictment, on May 23, 2005, Chien, the day-to-day manager and president of Style Craft Furniture, shipped a container of furniture from China into the United States at Port Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Baby furniture made from ramin may have
deprived orangutans of their habitat.
(Photo credit unknown)

The furniture was made from a light colored tropical hardwood called ramin that grows in Southeast Asian forests that provide habitat for critically endangered orangutans. Loss of habitat is the primary reason why the survival of orangutans is threatened.

There has been an estimated decline of over 80 percent of Indonesian orangutans over the last 75 years, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This decline continues, as forests within its range are under major threat. Most orangutans live outside of protected areas, within potential logging areas and conversion forests.

Indonesia has one of the highest rates of deforestation of any county, much of it due to illegal timber harvest. As a result, the Indonesian government is attempting to combat the illegal harvest of timber, including ramin, in part to protect the remaining orangutan habitat.

The indictment alleges that the ramin in the Style Craft baby furniture originated from the wild in Indonesia and was imported without a valid required export permit or re-export certificate in violation of the CITES treaty.

The United States, Indonesia, Malaysia, and China are, and were in 2005, signatories to this international treaty that protects certain listed species of fish, wildlife, and plants against overexploitation by regulating trade in these species.

International efforts to curb the illegal harvest of ramin, used in the manufacture of baby cribs, include its listing in Appendix II of CITES, which protects species that may become threatened with extinction unless trade in them is strictly regulated under a permit system.

The government of Indonesia proposed the listing of ramin in CITES Appendix II, and the proposal was approved by CITES member governments. The listing became effective on January 12, 2005, five months before the alleged act of smuggling by Chien and Style Craft.

Under U.S. law, the Endangered Species Act prohibits anyone from trading in specimens in violation of the CITES treaty.

If convicted, Chien faces a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of either $250,000, or twice the monetary gain or loss caused by the offense.

The maximum fine for a Style Craft is $500,000 or twice the gain or loss caused by the offense.

The case is being prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of New Jersey.

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