Busted: China Customs Dismantles Major Ivory Trafficking Syndicate


Three men involved in running a major international ivory smuggling syndicate have been captured, following enforcement action by China Customs Anti-Smuggling Bureau.

The trio were first exposed in the July 2017 report The Shuidong Connection: Exposing the global hub of the illegal ivory trade by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). During almost three years of undercover work, EIA investigators infiltrated one of the leading syndicates based in the obscure Chinese town of Shuidong, said to be a major Chinese hub for poached ivory smuggled from Africa.

The Shuidong Connection identified the three main culprits in the syndicate as Wang, Xie and Ou. EIA shared its findings with relevant Chinese Government agencies in a confidential briefing ahead of the report’s publication.

Enforcement action based on that intelligence was launched by the local Anti-Smuggling Bureau on July 6, 2017 when about 500 officers raided locations in Shuidong and surrounding areas. Wang was caught during this raid and subsequently jailed for a 15 year sentence; Xie was located in Tanzania and voluntarily returned to face trial, at which he was jailed for a six year sentence.

Chinese authorities have now confirmed that Ou was repatriated from Nigeria to China on January 5, 2019, under an INTERPOL Red Notice. He will now face trial in China.

Xie, Ou and Wang meet with EIA investigators, 2016.

“We are very pleased to see such robust enforcement action taken by the Chinese authorities in response to the information provided by our investigators,” said Julian Newman, EIA Campaigns Director. “During the investigation, this syndicate had claimed involvement in multiple shipments of illegal ivory tusks from Africa to China and had been directly involved in the trade for years, so dismantling the operation has put a major dent in global illegal ivory trafficking operations.”

Action by the China Customs Anti-Smuggling Bureau based on EIA’s intelligence has now led to the dismantling of two ivory trafficking syndicates spanning Guangdong and Fujian province in southern China.

China’s efforts were not focused on only the thee syndicate members identified by EIA; by February 2018, 11 suspects had been convicted by the local court, with jail sentences ranging from six to 15 years imprisonment.

“EIA applauds this achievement; the Chinese authorities are to be congratulated for their collaborative and co-ordinated approach,” added Newman.

Featured image: caught on hidden camera, members of the Shuidong syndicate show undercover EIA investigators their illegal ivory stash. This image and all images in this story via EIA.

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We investigate and campaign against environmental crime and abuse. Our undercover investigations expose transnational wildlife crime, with a focus on elephants, pangolins and tigers and forest crimes such as illegal logging and deforestation for cash crops such as palm oil. We work to safeguard global marine ecosystems by addressing the threats posed by plastic pollution, bycatch and commercial exploitation of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Finally, we reduce the impact of climate change by campaigning to eliminate powerful refrigerant greenhouse gases, exposing related illicit trade and improving energy efficiency in the cooling sector. We use our findings in hard-hitting reports to campaign for new legislation, improved governance and more effective enforcement. Click to see author's profile.

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