US auction house official guilty of smuggling ivory, rhino horn

Washington, March 10 (IANS) An official of a California-based auction house pleaded guilty of smuggling carvings and other items made from protected wildlife worth $1 million.

Joseph Chait, a senior auction administrator of the I.M. Chait gallery and auction house, pleaded guilty to smuggling elephant ivory, rhinoceros horn and coral in a New York federal court, prosecutors said on Wednesday. He could face up to 10 years in prison under two related charges, Xinhua news agency reported.

Prosecutors said he falsified customs forms to show that items made from protected wildlife were made of bone, wood or plastic.

He also helped overseas clients smuggle such items out of the US.

According to sources, one carving made from rhino horn was auctioned for $230,000.

The announcement came on the same day as the International Union for Conservation of Nature said in a statement that more than 1,300 rhinos were poached in Africa last year, a record since 2008 when trade in rhino horns became banned in South Africa.

The country is reportedly home to 20,000 rhinos, or 80 percent of the world’s rhino population.

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