Last month, the Malawi Police Service, in conjunction with the Department of Parks and Wildlife, have arrested one of Malawi’s most wanted suspected wildlife traffickers, Yunhua L.. A great effort by the Malawi government, says Tina Lain, Senior Expert Environmental Justice at IUCN NL. Adequate follow-up is now required to avoid this man from running free and causing more animals to die.

L., 46, a Chinese national, was arrested on Friday 16 August 2019 after a three months manhunt. ‘We have to praise the government for being able to capture this criminal,’ says Lain. ‘This man is connected to the recovery of a number of wildlife trophies including 3 live pangolins, 556 pangolin scales, 103 pieces of rhino horns, 2 hippo teeth, ivory made chopsticks and processed ivory.’

Variety of wildlife crimes

L. was previously convicted of attempting to export processed ivory at Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro International Airport in 2014. In May this year his wife with eight other Chinese nationals and three Malawian accomplices were arrested for a variety of wildlife crimes.

‘On the 9th of September two of the Malawian nationals were sentenced to three years in prison for the possession and dealing in pangolins,’ Lain states. ‘This conviction is great news in the fight against illegal wildlife trade in Malawi.’

Illegal possession of listed species

The Chinese suspects haven’t been sentenced yet. L. is currently facing charges of illegal possession of listed species contrary to section 86 of National Parks and Wildlife Act as read with section 110 and Dealing in Government trophies contrary to section 91 of National Parks and Wildlife Act.

‘His first hearing was scheduled yesterday, on the 11th of September,’ Lain says. ‘But the magistrate didn’t show-up.’ L.’s wife and the other Chinese accomplices should have their first hearing today, September 12.  

Adequate follow-up

‘It is crucial to have a proper judicial follow-up of these Chinese nationals as well,’ Lain states. ‘We are worried that the delay in the hearing might weaken the great work the Malawian government has been doing.’

Lain stresses that it now comes down to adequate follow-up. ‘Unfortunately, people involved in illegal wildlife trade, especially the ones at the top of the tree, tend to have a lot of power. Therefore, appeals against them are often denied, or suspects are able to post bail.’

Malawi government needs to set precedent

‘We need to break with this vicious circle of impunity,’ Lain stresses. We ought to support the Malawi government to set a precedent in the fight against wildlife crime and illegal wildlife trade in the country and region.

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Tina Lain
no longer working at IUCN NL