14 Chinese Nationals Tried for Wildlife Crimes in Uganda.
14 Chinese Nationals Tried for Wildlife Crimes in Uganda: On 11th May 2020, fourteen Chinese nationals were presented before the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate’s court on charges of unlawful possession of wildlife and illegal stay in Uganda. Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, the accused appeared before court via video conference.
Magistrate, Miriam Oyo Okello, presided over the court where the 14 Chinese nationals appeared before court in two separate groups. The first group consisted of Lin Yi Ming, Li Jia Zhao, Mao Ya Jan, Mao Xue Ming, Huang Jian, and You Jing Dao. With Mr. Bruce Tumuhimbise acting as an interpreter for the court, the magistrate read for the accused their charges which included illegal possession of wildlife species.
According to prosecution, the accused were arrested on March 18, 2020 at Kireka Kamuli Lubowa Zone in Kira municipality, where they were found with illegal possession of 10 pieces of dried elephant penises which are said to be valued at Shs 17.1 billion. They were also found with six tortoises valued at Shs 22.8 million and half a kilogram of pangolin scales valued at Shs 5.7 million.
Pangolins are said to be the most trafficked mammals in the world and account for as much as 20% of all illegal wildlife trade listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species. The species is listed as critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List of Endangered species.
The above said persons were also accused of being in unlawful possession of tortoises which they kept as pets at their residence minus seeking approval of the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The prosecution held that the accused were in violation of section 71 of the Uganda Wildlife Act 2019.
The second group consisted of Li Jia Zhao, Lin Shao Sheng, Lin Yi Ming, Chen Jun, Chen Xiao Kang, Liao Xiao Feng. The group was charged with unlawful stay in the country following their arrest on March 17, 2020, after the expiration of their visas on March 3, 2020.
The prosecution also contends that the accused persons had started engaging themselves in private business by forming scrap dealing, food processing and mobile garget firms without valid work permits, special passes and certificate of permanent residence.
The accused were part of a gang of 37 Chinese nationals who were arrested on March 27, 2020 for illegal possession of hundreds of sim cards and mobile phones among others. The accused were found in possession of 1,895 Airtel sim cards, as well as 223 MTN sim cards which they are believed to have been using in scam financial transactions. The group was also found with suspected stolen property, which included mobile phones, electricity meters, and computer motherboards.
Three of the main suspects, Lin Shao Sheng, You Jin Dao, and Li Jia Zhao, were found guilty on charges of being in possession of suspected stolen property and were remanded to the newly constructed Kitalya Government prison as they await their sentence.
The fourteen suspects have pleaded not guilty on charges of unlawful possession of wildlife and have been remanded to Kitalya prison until May 21 pending investigations. If found guilty, they face a penalty of a maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years of jail term.
The arrest and trial of the fourteen Chinese nationals in Uganda comes at a time when the country is tightening and enforcing its laws on illegal wildlife activities in its protected areas. With the Government of Uganda making such a bold move, it hopes to successfully conserve and preserve all its wildlife species in all national parks and conservation areas in the country.