Bringing down the Dragon: An analysis of China’s largest ivory smuggling case

In December 2020, the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court in China convicted 17 members of a criminal network that was responsible for smuggling at least 20. 22 tonnes of elephant ivory from Nigeria to China between 2013 and 2019. The defendants included 16 Chinese nationals and one Malaysian national, while a further two Chinese nationals who were fugitives at that time have since been arrested and are currently facing trial.

The sentences received ranged from two years up to life imprisonment with the confiscation of all personal assets, and individual fines up to RMB 5,000,000 (USD 770,273). It is China’s largest ever ivory smuggling case, not only in terms of the quantity of ivory involved, but also the number of people arrested from the same network, and the size of the penalties.

The preferred trafficking routes used by the Chen organised crime group.

The Wildlife Justice Commission analysed the smuggling methods used by this network and identified a set of 10 enabling factors that facilitated their criminal operations. The enablers in this case are systemic issues that are relevant to many other cases, and they allowed the network to commit crime over at least a seven-year period. While these factors demonstrate the complexity of transnational organised wildlife trafficking, breaking down the criminal scenario into these components is useful to understand why the network was so successful and able to operate with impunity for so long.

As such, this report is an in-depth case study of the inner workings of this criminal network, to highlight key systemic practices that could provide useful insights for law enforcement efforts to combat organised wildlife trafficking. This report is compiled primarily from the trial hearing and media articles.

The purpose of this report is to understand the crime enablers in this case, break down the supply chain, and explore the associated entities of interest and how they operated within the criminal network.

Wildlife Justice Commission

Why is the Wildlife Justice Commission releasing this report?

The Wildlife Justice Commission analysed the modus operandi of the syndicate and identified a set of 10 crime-enabling factors that facilitated their operations over at least a seven-year period. These factors demonstrate the complexity of transnational organised wildlife crime.

In the video below, Stephen Carmody, Director of Programs at the Wildlife Justice Commission, elaborates on these factors. The video emphasises the most important takeaways for readers to look out for in this report.