By Edward Gay, New Zealand Herald, Apr 17, 2013
An ivory trader told police that he knew elephants were being killed for their tusks but thought they would make a good investment.
Jiezhen Jiang appeared at the Manukau District Court today where he pleaded guilty to eight charges of trading in endangered species without a permit.
The charges – laid under the Trade in Endangered Species Act – carry a maximum term of five years in prison and a fine of $100,000.
Jiang was caught after Customs officers intercepted two parcels at the international mail centre. Both were addressed to Jiang’s anglicised name “Kevin Jiang”.
Customs’ officers raided his Mellons Bay property in October 2011 and found six other items made from the tusks of endangered African elephants.
According to the police summary of facts, the 56-year-old retiree had his son set up an account on the online auction website eBay.
Between May 2010 and September 2011, Jiang was a prolific online trader and bought 299 items including objects made of silver, bone china and ivory.
Jiang said he had sold two ivory items to people in China through a website because they “were not of artistic value”.
During an interview with authorities, he admitted bidding on and buying ivory items. He also said he bought others on Trade Me and sent them back to China.
Jiang said he knew that trading in ivory was restricted in China but did not know there were rules in New Zealand as well.
He told police that he knew elephants were being killed for their ivory but thought it would be a good investment because the ivory would increase in value.
Crown prosecutor Susanna Locke said she was aware Jiang would be making an application for a discharge without conviction but it is likely that would be opposed.
Judge Gus Andree Wiltens remanded Jiang on bail for sentencing next month when the application for a discharge without conviction will be heard.
Importing ivory into New Zealand is prohibited without a permit after New Zealand became one of the 175 countries to ratify the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.
As well as elephants, the convention also covers 5000 other animals and 29,000 species of plants.
Buying and selling ivory within New Zealand is not prohibited, but as soon as someone wants to import or export ivory they need a permit.
According to Trade Me spokesman Paul Ford, the auction website allows older jewellery, pianos with ivory keys and retro butter knives with ivory handles to be sold.
But animals and animal parts are on the restricted list, and raw ivory and newly harvested ivory cannot be sold.
“We also wouldn’t allow the sale of something with a significant amount of ivory,” Mr Ford said.
A quick search of Trade Me shows more than 160 ivory products for sale in the “Antiques” section, and at least one of them – a $1400 Chinese figurine – bears a close resemblance to an object that Jiang has pleaded guilty to importing.
Mr Ford said the item in the auction was “relatively old” and there had been no complaints about it.