Cameroon-Canada-U.S. Ivory Smuggler Gets Five Years

AKRON, Ohio, August 11, 2008 (ENS) – An art dealer who operated import and export businesses in Canada and Cameroon that were fronts for smuggling raw elephant ivory has been sentenced to five years in prison and a $100,000 fine for smuggling ivory from Cameroon into the United States.

Canadian citizen and former Montreal resident Tania Julie Siyam, 32, was sentenced in Akron, Ohio Thursday after pleading guilty in March to four felonies.

The sentence, handed down by U.S. District Court Judge John Adams, is the result of a multi-year, international investigation by special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife officials from Environment Canada and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland, Ohio.

“When it comes to environmental protection, Canada is taking the lead through a $22 million investment to increase enforcement efforts to stop illegal activities like these,” said Environment Minister John Baird. “I am pleased to see the cooperative success of both Canadian and U.S. officials which has resulted in one of the most significant sentences ever for ivory smuggling in North America.”

Young elephant in Cameroon (Photo by
Theodore Etonde courtesy Field
Trip Earth)

The $100,000 fine will be given to the African Elephant Conservation Fund which supports projects that enhance sustainable conservation programs for African elephants.

On February 2, 2004, Siyam was arrested by Toronto Police under a provisional extradition warrant.

Siyam was indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury, in Cleveland on March 3, 2004, on two felony Lacey Act violations and two felony smuggling counts for activities relating to the illegal commercial trafficking of raw African elephant ivory from Cameroon to the United States.

Following numerous Canadian hearings over nearly four years, Siyam was extradited to the United States to face criminal charges on December 21, 2007. On March 21, 2008, Siyam pled guilty in U.S. District Court in Akron to the four federal felony charges.

In summer 2002, Siyam moved her base of operation from Canada to Cameroon, where her family originated.

In Cameroon, Siyam devised a plan to smuggle illegal wildlife products by soliciting local artists and craftsmen, operatives within international commercial shipping companies, contacts in the illegal ivory trade, a partner in Canada, and a partner in the United States.

She operated with the assistance of her father, Alphonse Siyam Siwe, the general manager of ports in Cameroon from 1998-2005.

As part of her scheme, Siyam operated numerous Internet art businesses out of Canada, and Cameroon and used other telecommunications to advertise and sell regulated and protected wildlife products to customers throughout the world

In fall 2002, special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Environment Canada wildlife officials were alerted by concerned citizens that parts of endangered species, including raw elephant ivory, were being advertised for sale on the Internet. An investigation identified Siyam as the central person involved in the scheme.

During November 2002, with the assistance of a local Ohio business owner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents were able to purchase a shipment of illegal raw elephant ivory from Siyam. The ivory tusks were concealed inside pottery, labeled as art, and sent by international courier from Cameroon to Montreal. Once in Canada, the goods were repackaged and shipped by Siyam’s Canadian partner, via the Canadian and U.S. Postal Service, to the Ohio business address.

During December 2003, the cooperating Ohio business owner, working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents, made a second purchase of 125 pounds of illegal raw elephant ivory.

Siyam, again operating from Cameroon, shipped the raw elephant ivory by international courier directly to the cooperating Ohio business owner’s address. The shipment consisted of three wooden crates, with the raw ivory concealed inside terra cotta flower pots packaged within each crate.

Also in 2003, additional shipments of ivory were sent to other customers, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents in New York. Raw elephant tusks, and elephant ivory carvings, were again concealed inside pottery and declared as art.

Although the ivory was not visible to the naked eye within the clay sculptures, it was clearly visible during an X-ray examination by enforcement officers.

By the end of 2003, enough evidence had been obtained to charge Siyam with multiple felony Lacey Act and smuggling violations. The two elephant ivory shipments to Ohio were valued together at more than $158,000 and included parts from at least 21 African elephants, including juvenile animals.

Forensic testing has confirmed that the total amount of ivory intercepted during the investigation came from at least 24 elephants and had a resale value of about $178,000.

The Lacey Act is a U.S. wildlife protection law, with each violation carrying a maximum fine of $250,000 and/or five years in prison. Felony smuggling counts similarly carry, with each violation, a maximum fine of $250,000 and/or five years in prison.

Wild populations of African elephants in the African countries of Cameroon, Gabon and the Congo, the main sources of elephant ivory, have dropped by about 75 percent in the last 40 years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The main cause for this decline in elephant populations is believed to be the illegal hunting of elephants for the international ivory trade, and for bush meat, which is a lucrative by-product of the illegal ivory trade.

The unauthorized importation and commercialization of African and Asian elephant products including elephant tusks are violations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES.

Both the United States and Canada are members of CITES, which regulates worldwide trade in endangered and threatened species, and prohibits the illegal trade in parts of protected wildlife species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other law enforcement agencies in the 172 CITES member countries work together to stop the illegal trade of endangered and protected plants and animals.

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