Kenyan Citizen in US pleads guilty to Large-Scale trafficking of rhinoceros horns, elephant Ivory

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U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York announced that Mansur Mohamed Surur, aka Mansour, a Kenyan citizen, pleaded guilty to conspiring to traffic in rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory, both endangered wildlife species, which involved the illegal poaching of more than approximately 35 rhinoceros and more than 100 elephants. Surur also pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute heroin to a buyer located in the United States.

Two of Surur’s co-defendants, Moazu Kromah, aka Ayoub, Ayuba, and Kampala Man, a citizen of Liberia, and Amara Cherif, aka Bamba Issiaka, a citizen of Guinea, previously pleaded guilty on March 30, 2022, and April 27, 2022, respectively to conspiring to traffic in rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory, as well as substantive charges of trafficking in rhinoceros horns.

The remaining defendants, Badru Abdul Aziz Saleh, aka Badro, and Abdi Hussein Ahmed, aka Abu Khadi, are both citizens of Kenya. Saleh is in custody in Kenya based on a U.S. extradition request, and Ahmed remains a fugitive.

The U.S. Department of State has offered a reward of up to $1  million for information leading to his arrest and/or conviction, and any information may be provided to FWS_TIPS@fws.gov or by calling 1-844-FWS-TIPS. 

“The protection of endangered wildlife and natural resources is a crucial and important priority for my office,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams. “These defendants were responsible for furthering an industry that illegally slaughters species protected by international agreements around the world. One of these defendants also engaged in a narcotics conspiracy involving a large quantity of heroin. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), these defendants have now pleaded guilty to the serious and destructive crimes they committed.”

According to the charging and other documents filed in the case, as well as statements made during the plea and other proceedings:

Kromah, Cherif, and Surur were members of a transnational criminal enterprise (the “Enterprise”) based in Uganda and surrounding countries that was engaged in the large-scale trafficking and smuggling of rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory, both protected wildlife species. Trade involving endangered or threatened species violates several U.S. laws, as well as international treaties implemented by certain U.S. laws.

From at least in or about December 2012 through at least in or about May 2019, Kromah, Cherif, Surur, and others conspired to transport, distribute, sell and smuggle at least approximately 190 kilograms of rhinoceros horns and at least approximately 10 tons of elephant ivory from or involving various countries in East Africa, including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal and Tanzania, to buyers located in the United States and countries in Southeast Asia. Such weights of rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory are estimated to have involved the illegal poaching of more than approximately 35 rhinoceros and more than approximately 100 elephants. In total, the estimated average retail value of the rhinoceros horn involved in the conspiracy was at least approximately $3.4 million, and the estimated average retail value of the elephant ivory involved in the conspiracy was at least approximately $4 million.

Typically, the defendants exported and agreed to export rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory for delivery to foreign buyers, including certain rhinoceros horns to a buyer represented to be in Manhattan, in packaging that concealed the horns in, among other things, pieces of art such as African masks and statues. The defendants received and deposited payments from foreign customers that were sent in the form of international wire transfers, some of which were sent through U.S. financial institutions, and paid in cash.

On or about March 16, 2018, law enforcement agents intercepted a package containing a black rhinoceros horn sold by the defendants that was intended for a buyer represented to be in Manhattan. From in or about March 2018 through in or about May 2018, the defendants offered to sell additional rhinoceros horns of varying weights, including horns weighing up to approximately seven kilograms. On or about July 17, 2018, law enforcement agents intercepted a package containing two rhinoceros horns sold by the defendants that were intended for a buyer represented to be in Manhattan.

Separately, from at least in or about August 2018 through at least in or about May 2019, Surur conspired with others to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a large quantity of heroin to a buyer represented to be located in New York.

Kromah previously was expelled to the United States from Uganda, while Cherif and Surur were extradited from Senegal and Kenya, respectively. The defendants have been detained since their arrest and arrival in this country.

Kromah, 52; Cherif, 57; and Surur, 62, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. In addition, Kromah and Cherif both pleaded guilty to two counts of wildlife trafficking, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and Surur also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

U.S. Attorney Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the FWS and the DEA, and he thanked law enforcement authorities and conservation partners in Uganda and Kenya, including the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Uganda Office of the Director of Public Prosecution, the Uganda Police Force, the Kenya Directorate of Criminal Investigations, and the Kenyan Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for their assistance in this investigation. U.S. Attorney Williams also thanked the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs for their assistance.

The prosecution of this case is being handled by the office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sagar K. Ravi and Jarrod L. Schaeffer are in charge of the prosecution.

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