Fifteen Chinese doctors accused in a smuggling case involving 150
kg of ivory escaped African prosecutors last week, but now the
Chinese government has them in its sights.
The suspects, who had spent two years in the west African nation of
Mali, were originally detained in Belgium while en route to China
after local authorities seized their luggage and found 44 carved
and 29 uncarved elephant tusks worth about US$881,100.
The doctors were released late last week, before Mali investigators
could finish accumulating evidence of criminal involvement, and
flew back to their homes in east China’s Zhejiang Province.
But the saga was not over. A General Administration of Customs
official in charge of smuggling cases said that the administration
will launch its own probe into the activities of the doctors to
determine if they were involved in the outlawed ivory trade.
The official, who identified himself only as Mr Wang, said the
investigation is in keeping with international covenants but
declined to elaborate further.
According to Zhejiang Province’s Qianjiang Evening News, local
health officials close to the case have expressed doubts about the
is more likely, the paper quoted them as saying, that the doctors
purchased the ivory either for their private collections or as
gifts for friends
However, Fan Zhiyong, a senior official and expert on endangered
species protection in China, said the doctors had broken the law by
buying and taking home the banned products, regardless of their
“It was absolutely an infraction. China has banned the import and
export of ivory products for a decade and I think they knew this,”
The doctors have all refused requests for interviews.
China has historically been a heavy importer of ivory tusks from
Africa, which it used in the creation of elaborate art works. This
practice, dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), gained
China international fame.
The government banned imports and exports of ivory products in 1991
and punishments, ranging from heavy fines to imprisonment, were
applied to violators.