Pair plead guilty in California to smuggling rhino horns
SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - Two men involved in an international rhinoceros horn trafficking ring pleaded guilty in federal court in California on Friday to money laundering and smuggling charges, prosecutors said.
The men, 49-year-old Vinh Chung "Jimmy" Kha and 26-year-old Felix Kha, made the pleas as part of a deal in which they admitted to purchasing white and black rhino horns despite their protected status as endangered and threatened species, federal prosecutors said.
A guilty plea was also entered for the Win Lee Corporation, owned by Jimmy Kha, to smuggling and trafficking charges.
Both defendants told prosecutors they purchased the horns to ship them overseas, where they would be sold and made into libation cups or traditional medicine, and bribed Vietnamese customs agents to do so.
"These individuals were interested in one thing and one thing only - making money," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said in a statement about the pleas.
"They didn't care about the law or about driving a species to the brink of extinction. We will continue to aggressively investigate and pursue traffickers who threaten the future of rhinos and other imperiled species," he added.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, of which the U.S. is a signatory, bans virtually all trade in rhino horns - often used in traditional medicines - to try to save them from extinction.
Vietnam was listed earlier this summer by conservation group World Wildlife Fund as one of the countries that does the least to crack down on illegal trade in animal parts.
Jimmy and Felix Kha are scheduled to be sentenced in December. Attorneys for Jimmy and Felix Kha did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)
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