SEATTLE (AP) — Two foreign nationals from the Democratic Republic of Congo were arrested near Seattle and indicted by a federal grand jury on conspiracy and money laundering charges for allegedly smuggling elephant ivory and rhino horns into the United States.
Herdade Lokua and his cousin Jospin Mujangi, both of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, are accused of working with a person described in the indictment as an “unindicted co-conspirator” to facilitate four shipments of the poached items into Seattle in August, September and May of 2020, according to court documents.
Both men were arrested Nov. 2 when they arrived in Edmonds to negotiate further shipments, according to officials from the Department of Homeland Security.
On Thursday in U.S. District Court, they pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, money laundering, smuggling and violations of the Lacey Act, which prohibits submitting false records in interstate or foreign commerce.
The indictment alleges the shipments were in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, an international agreement among 183 nations, meant to protect plants and animals threatened with extinction.
Both men were ordered held pending further hearings.
Officials have said Washington has been a hub for smuggling illegal animal parts because it’s a West Coast travel hub and because of its proximity to Asia, where demand is high for these items.
The indictment alleges the men facilitated the smuggling of four packages containing a total of 49 pounds of ivory from endangered African elephants and five pounds of horn from the African white rhinoceros, which is also listed as an endangered species. They were paid $14,500 by an undercover Homeland Security agent for the ivory and an additional $18,000 for the rhino horn, according to the indictment.