An African charged with conspiring to smuggle 10 tonnes of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns was extradited on Monday from Kenya to the US.
Manhattan prosecutors told reporters Mansur Mohamed Surur faces a federal court indictment charging him with conspiring in the illegal poaching of over 35 rhinos and more than 100 elephants.
The resulting 190kg of rhinoceros horns and 9,000kg of elephant ivory were valued at more than US$7 million, authorities said.
Mansur was arrested in Mombasa, Kenya, last July, after law enforcement agents intercepted a package containing two rhinoceros horns sold to an American law enforcement operative who had posed as a Manhattan-based buyer.
Prosecutors said Mansur and the criminal smuggling enterprise he was part of were responsible for the illegal slaughter of thousands of animals, most of which are endangered.
According to court papers, Mansur and co-defendants exported and agreed to export the rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory to foreign buyers, including some in New York.
When they were shipped, the rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory were sometimes hidden in pieces of art such as African masks and statues, prosecutors said.
The smugglers received and deposited payments from foreign customers that were sent in the form of international wire transfers, some of which were sent through US financial institutions.
At an initial appearance before a judge, Mansur pleaded not guilty. He was detained without bail.
Mansur was charged with conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking, wildlife trafficking, conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to distribute and possess one kilogram or more of heroin. The last charge carries the potential for life imprisonment and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Two co-defendants were brought to the US last spring to face charges. A fourth individual is a fugitive.
According to the World Economic Forum, the revenue produced by endangered animal trafficking and the illegal sale of their body parts generates over US$20 billion worldwide per year.