British Columbia

Rhino horn smuggling guilty plea entered by B.C. man

A Canadian antiques dealer swept up in a U.S. crackdown on illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns pleaded guilty Tuesday to a wildlife smuggling charge.

Tony Guan, 39, admitted to trying to ship black rhinocerous horns to a Point Roberts, Wash., mailbox

In this Nov. 15, 2011 file photo, customs officers stand guard near seized rhino horns in Hong Kong. (Kin Cheung/The Associated Press)

A Canadian antiques dealer swept up in a U.S. crackdown on illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns pleaded guilty Tuesday to a wildlife smuggling charge.

Xiao Ju Guan, also known as Tony Guan, entered the plea to a count of attempted smuggling in federal court in Manhattan. Sentencing was set for next spring, when he faces up to 10 years in prison.

Guan, who remains incarcerated, admitted that he tried in March to smuggle two black rhinoceros horns from New York to British Columbia, where he intended to sell them at a store.

The 39-year-old Richmond, B.C., resident is the owner of an antiques business in his hometown. He said he had smuggled more than $400,000 of rhino horns and sculptures made from elephant ivory and coral from U.S. auction houses to Canada.

"I knew I was violating the law," Guan told U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain. "I attempted to mislabel them."

A plea agreement with the government that was signed by Guan suggested a sentence of between 30 months and 46 months in prison. It also called for Guan to forfeit items recovered during a search of his antiques business.

All species of the rhinoceros are protected under U.S. and international law, and international trade in rhino horns and elephant ivory has been regulated since the mid-1970s. Elephant herds in Africa have been critically depleted over the years by ivory hunters.

In a release, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called rhinos and elephants "magnificent animals" and said their survival depends on the enforcement of laws and international treaties.

Sam Hirsch, acting assistant attorney general for the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, said Canadian authorities had helped build the case against Guan.

Authorities said Guan bought the rhinoceros horns in New York from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service undercover agents who drove him and a female accomplice acting as his interpreter to a nearby express mail store, where he mailed the horns to Washington state, near the Canadian border and 27 kilometres from his business.

Guan admitted during his plea that he falsely labelled the box of rhino horns as "handicrafts."

With files from CBC News

now