In France, a court has found eight individuals guilty of trafficking rhino horn and ivory between Europe and East Asia, including members of an Irish crime ring.
There were four men, three Irish and one English, who was sentenced to prison for allegedly being members of the Rathkeale Rovers gang. However, two of them were saved because their sentences were postponed.
The court also imposed a total of €316,000 ($371721.42) in fines.
Three individuals were not present at the special court in Rennes, west France, and international arrest orders have been issued for them.
Commends from Environmental Groups
Charlotte Nithart, head of the Robin des Bois (Robin Hood) environmental group, applauded the decision, calling it "educational and dissuasive... for all those who engage in wildlife trafficking and speculate on endangered animals."
"There is poaching before trafficking, which creates social and environmental devastation," she remarked following the verdict on Wednesday.
Catching the Perps
Police stopped a BMW vehicle in a random highway traffic inspection in September 2015 and discovered four uncertified elephant tusks and €32,800 ($38771.37) in cash, prompting an investigation by French prosecutors.
The car's passengers, some of whom claimed to be antique dealers, were later discovered to be part of an international network of rhino horn and ivory traffickers, with numerous Chinese and Vietnamese individuals among them.
Trafficking Criminal Organizations
According to police, the Rathkeale Rovers, a criminal group named after a town near Limerick in southern Ireland, was reported to be among the Irish and English suspects. In addition, gang members have been linked to a dizzying range of frauds spanning Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Australia, many of which have roots in the Travelling community.
The smugglers had two factories in France where they turned ivory and rhino horn into powder or flakes and other things, which were subsequently shipped to Vietnam and China for use in traditional medicine.
Seizing "Exotic" Goods
During the inquiry, a huge horn weighing approximately 15 kilograms was seized. Once processed, Robin des Bois estimated that it would have been worth about €13 million in export items.
According to Robin des Bois, auction shops in Cannes, Toulouse, and Le Puy aided the export of tusks to Vietnam and China.
Target of Inter-agency Investigation
According to the Europol police agency's website, the Rathkeale Rovers were the subject of a combined investigation by European police in 2010 that resulted in 31 persons being detained, including rhino horn theft.
The group has trafficked illegal antiquities, cigarettes, electrical items, vintage automobiles, and forged coronavirus test certificates.
It has amassed a reputation for deceiving clients and contractors, giving it the nicknames "asfaltaris Irlandese" in Italy, "teerkolonne" in Germany, and "les fake bitumeurs" in France. According to reports, the tarmackers have also worked in South America, Mexico, the United States, and South Africa.
Europol warned in February that members of the Rathkeale Rovers were falsifying coronavirus test results and selling them to travelers via a mobile phone app.
Michael Hegarty, a senior member of the group, was sentenced to 18 months in jail in 2017 by a federal court in Miami for smuggling a libation cup - a drinking vessel carved from rhino horn - from the United States to England.
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