Hailing from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Herdade Lokua, 34, and Jospin Mujangi, 32, agreed to smuggle elephant ivory, white rhinoceros horn and pangolin scales to the United States in November 2019. They worked with a middleman to negotiate the sales and coordinate imports to Seattle, Washington, USA.
Between August 2020 and September 2020, Lokua and Mujangi shipped three packages that contained around 49 pounds of ivory from Kinshasa and arranged for the ivory to be cut into smaller pieces and painted black. The packages were falsely labeled as containing wood.
Using a similar scheme, Lokua and Mujangi sent around 5lbs of rhinoceros horn to Seattle in June 2021. They also sent 2 tons of ivory and 1 ton of pangolin scales concealed in a shipping container.
Before Lokua and Mujangi could access the cash in Kinshasa, payment would have to be routed through a bank account in China. On November 2, 2021, they traveled to Seattle to meet with prospective buyers.
Unbeknownst to Lokua and Mujangi, the buyers were actually undercover federal agents. The agents arrested the two Congolese men in Edmonds, Washington after they negotiated the details of a large shipment of ivory, rhinoceros horn and pangolin scales.
On November 3, 2021, Lokua and Mujangi were indicted on 11 counts relating to trafficking wildlife from DR Congo to Seattle. On July 12, 2022, they pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiracy and Lacey Act charges in federal court in Seattle, which scheduled the sentencing hearing for November 1, 2022.
Signed into law on May 25, 1900, the Lacey Act is the oldest wildlife trafficking statute in the U.S. It prohibits trade in wildlife, fish and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold.
Including the U.S. and DR Congo, there are around 183 countries that are signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which restricts trade in species that may be threatened with extinction. The international treaty has permit requirements for protected wildlife.