Malawi’s illegal wildlife trade crackdown has earned a Chinese national 14 years in jail.
Yunhua Lin, considered the lynchpin of a notorious wildlife trafficking cartel operating across in Southern Africa, was convicted in June of the illegal trade in wildlife parts, illegal possession of firearms, and possession of illegal drugs.
At Lin’s sentencing at the Magistrate Court of Lilongwe on Sept. 28, Judge Violet Chipao called him a “mastermind” and dismissed his lawyers’ argument that he was merely the recipient of illegally obtained wildlife products.
“Receivers must be punished more than poachers to deter existence of a market. Buying involves planning and organizing. The conduct of the convict was serious,” the judge said. “The pieces of rhino came from various rhinos which means he bought from different rhinos. The court feels Lin was a mastermind as he owns all the properties where specimen of ivory were found.”
Acting on a tip about his whereabouts, the Malawi police, in conjunction with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, arrested Lin in the capital, Lilongwe, in August 2019.
Fourteen other members of his syndicate — including his wife, Qin Hua Zang, and nine other Chinese nationals and four Malawians — had been arrested three months earlier. They were found in possession of pangolin scales, elephant ivory, hippo teeth and rhino horns. They received sentences ranging from 18 months to 11 years.
Director of National Parks and Wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa described Lin’s prison sentence as “very significant” in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade in Southern Africa.
“This is a big win for us. As a kingpin, Lin was sponsoring wildlife crimes in the region. Putting such people behind bars for that long means disrupting the operations of their cartel. That makes a big difference in the fight against illegal wildlife trade,” he said. He added that Lin’s arrest and imprisonment shows that Malawi’s strategy for fighting wildlife crime is paying off.
“We have changed strategies over the years. Among other things, we are heavily investing in technology to help us fight crimes such as poaching. We have also improved in our crime surveillance skills. In addition, the police and the courts are supporting us in a big way in investigations and handing out stiff sentences. So, this is a message to all criminals out there that we are no longer functioning in a business-as-usual way,” he said.
Malawi Police Service spokesperson James Kadadzera said they are heightening their efforts in cracking down on illegal wildlife trade, warning local populations against colluding with foreigners in poaching.
“We ask Malawians to refuse to work with foreigners in destroying wildlife. We will arrest them. We are also investing a lot in intelligence collection,” he said.
In November 2019, the secretariat of CITES, the international wildlife trade convention, struck Malawi off the list of countries of “primary concern” for the illegal wildlife trade.
CITES cited milestones such as the strengthening of the laws against wildlife crimes and progress made in tackling illegal trade in ivory as factors that led to the decision.
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