Africa

Kinshasa’s Herdade Lokua, Jospin Mujangi arrested in Washington for trafficking ivory, rhinoceros horn

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Both from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Jospin Mujangi, 31, and Herdade Lokua, 23, have been arrested. They are accused of trafficking elephant ivory and white rhinoceros horn from the Central African country to Seattle, Washington, United States.

Mujangi and Lokua allegedly sent three shipments containing a total of about 49 lbs of ivory by air freight to Seattle in August 2020 and September 2020 and another package with around 5 lbs of rhinoceros horn in May 2021. They are also accused of conspiring to conduct large transactions via ocean freight, offering the buyer more than two tons of elephant ivory, one ton of pangolin scales and multiple intact rhinoceros horns. 

On November 2, 2021, Mujangi and Lokua arrived in Washington to negotiate the details of such a deal. On November 3, 2021, they were arrested in Edmonds, Snohomish County, Washington.

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According to an 11-count indictment, Mujangi and Lokua worked with a middleman to smuggle four packages into the U.S. They allegedly had the tusks and horn cut into smaller pieces and painted black before mixing them with ebony wood to avoid detection customs authorities.

The packages were all declared as wood priced between $50-$60. The buyer paid the two Kinshasa men $14,500 for the ivory and $18,000 for the horn.

Moreover, Lokua and Mujangi sold 55 lbs of pangolin scales to a U.S. buyer but ultimately did not ship them. In order to ship the merchandise, the two allegedly paid bribes to authorities in Kinshasa.

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The arrests of Lokua and Mujangi and their indictment are part of the Operation Kuluna, an international operation conducted between the DRC government, the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa and the Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Seattle. Right after their arrests, the task force in DRC acted on information provided by HSI to seize 2,067 lbs of ivory and 75 lbs of pangolin scales in Kinshasa worth around $3.5 million,

Lokua and Mujangi were charged with conspiracy, money laundering, smuggling and violations of the Lacey Act, a wildlife trafficking statute that prohibits falsely labeling shipments containing wildlife. More than 180 countries including the U.S. and the DRC are signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty that restricts trade in species that may be threatened with extinction.

The CITES treaty has listed the white rhinoceros as a protected species since 1975 and the African elephant since 1977. In 2017, all species of pangolin were added to the treaty’s appendix with the greatest level of protection. 

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