Former Hanoi Customs officer gets 16-years following ivory and rhino horn theft from government warehouse
Ha Noi, Viet Nam, 29th August 2018—Hanoi’s People’s Court has sentenced former Customs Officer Pham Minh Hoang and accomplice Tran Trong Cuong to 16 years in prison for embezzlement after the two were caught stealing seized ivory and rhino horn from a customs warehouse and replacing the goods with fakes. A third man, Hoang Van Dien, was sentenced to two years for trading prohibited goods, according to Vietnamese media sources.
Last July the Hanoi Customs Department discovered that ivory was missing from the warehouse. Further investigation by Hanoi police revealed that warehouse manager Hoang had been stealing ivory and rhino horn and his friend Cuong replacing it with replicas made out of plastic and wood. The illegal goods were then passed to Dien, who sold them onwards for a commission.
The group stole a total of nearly 240 kg of ivory and 6.1 kg of rhino horn pieces over April and May 2017. Pieces of ivory, as well as ivory bracelets, statues, and an 80 cm elephant tusk were recovered from Dien’s house. The case raises questions about the security of seizures and the need for a robust ivory and rhino horn stock management system in Viet Nam to prevent future thefts.
In recent years, Viet Nam has come under scrutiny for its involvement in wildlife crime, both as a consumer and a transit country. Earlier this week, Angola announced the arrest of five Vietnamese nationals in connection with wildlife trafficking.
In 2018, the government amended its laws to include harsher penalties for wildlife traffickers. The move was in line with previous statements made by the government including a 2014 directive issued by then prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung to prioritise enforcement across ministries to combat ivory and rhino horn trade.
The severity of the sentences sends a strong message that Viet Nam will not tolerate the corruption that facilitates wildlife crime—a move fully in line with last year’s pledge by the G20 leaders on this issue and demonstrating the country’s commitment to being part of the international efforts to eradicate wildlife crime
Sarah Ferguson, Director of TRAFFIC’s Viet Nam Office.
Last year, Heads of the world’s 20 major economies, the so-called “G20 leaders” issued a Declaration pledging to address corruption and its role in facilitating wildlife trafficking.