DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - A Tanzanian court sentenced a prominent Chinese businesswoman dubbed the “Ivory Queen” to 15 years in prison on Tuesday for smuggling the tusks of more than 350 elephants to Asia - a big victory in the battle to stamp out poaching in Africa.
Yang Feng Glan had been charged in October 2015 along with two Tanzanian men with smuggling 860 pieces of ivory between 2000 and 2004 worth 13 billion shillings ($5.6 million). She denied the charges.
Police sources said Yang, 69, had lived in Tanzania since the 1970s and was secretary-general of the Tanzania China-Africa Business Council. A Swahili-speaker, she also owns a popular Chinese restaurant in Dar es Salaam.
Kisutu Court Magistrate Huruma Shaidi sentenced Yang, Salivius Matembo and Manase Philemon to 15 years in prison on convictions of leading an organised criminal gang.
Shaidi also ordered them to either pay twice the market value of the elephant tusks or face another two years in prison.
In court documents, prosecutors said Glan “intentionally did organise, manage and finance a criminal racket by collecting, transporting or exporting and selling government trophies” weighing a total of 1.889 tonnes.
Demand for ivory from Asian countries such as China and Vietnam, where it is turned into jewels and ornaments, has led to a surge in poaching across Africa.
Tanzania’s elephant population shrank from 110,000 in 2009 to little more than 43,000 in 2014, according to a 2015 census, with conservation groups blaming “industrial-scale” poaching.
In March 2016, Tanzania sentenced two Chinese men to 35 years each in jail for ivory smuggling, while in December 2015 another court sentenced four Chinese men to 20 years in jail each after they were convicted of smuggling rhino horns.
($1 = 2,325 Tanzanian shillings)
Reporting by Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Angus MacSwan