|Ms. Yang Feng Glan|
Yang was detained in the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam after a high-speed chase and is apparently the most prominent Chinese national charged with wildlife trafficking in Africa. The short, bespectacled owner of a well-known Chinese restaurant doesn’t fit the image of a poaching kingpin, but that’s exactly what she is, according to Tanzanian officials.
Yang was behind an illicit trade worth millions of dollars, using her ties to the Chinese and Tanzanian elite to move ivory across the world,, officials said. Ivory trafficking has resulted in immense damage to wildlife across Africa, but particularly in Tanzania. Between 2009 and 2014, the country’s elephant population plummeted from 109,051 to 43,330.
“She was at the center of that killing,” said Andrea Crosta, the executive director of Elephant Action League, a U.S.-based environmental watchdog group.
China’s role in Africa’s poaching crisis is no secret. The country consumes tons of ivory every year, much of it mixed into holistic medicine with no proven value. That demand has driven low-level poachers across the continent to massacre elephant and rhino populations. But the role played by Chinese business people based in Africa has been hazy.
The story of Yang, who will now be tried in a Tanzania court, might change the way people think about the global ivory trade. If she is convicted, it will turn out that one of Africa’s wildlife-trafficking kingpins was also one of its most prominent Chinese interlocutors.
According to investigators, Yang came to Africa in the 1970s, just as China was beginning construction on a railway in Tanzania. She was a translator back then, one of her country’s first trained Swahili speakers.
Yang moved around eastern Africa, becoming a well-known businesswoman, founding a company called Beijing Great Wall Investment and an eatery called Beijing Restaurant. By 2012, she was the secretary-general of the Tanzania China-Africa Business Council. She named her daughter Fei, the first character of the word for Africa in Mandarin.
All the while, Tanzanian investigators said Thursday, she was smuggling millions of dollars in ivory to her contacts in China, even financing poachers who targeted animals in protected areas.
“She played a tremendous role in the killing of animals,” said a senior Tanzanian official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly. “She helped buy the poachers guns and ammunition. She was the connection between the local brokers and the international market.”
Tanzania’s National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU) identified Yang more than a year ago and followed her role in the smuggling network, authorities said. They found that she was using her restaurant in downtown Dar es Salaam as a cover, sneaking ivory from outside of the city into food shipments that went to the kitchen, they said.
It was the same restaurant Yang had spoken proudly about in the Chinese press.
“Now I do not count on the restaurant to make money,” she told the China Daily newspaper last year. “Instead, I see it as a place where people from China and Tanzania can communicate, get to know more friends and conduct information exchanges.”
As China’s investment in Africa boomed in recent years, rumors swirled about the relationship between the country’s development projects on the continent and the illegal ivory trade. But Chinese smugglers were rarely arrested. They were too well-connected to the government, many suspected. Many said they believe that’is how Yang managed to operate with impunity for so many years.
“When we think of a kingpin, we think of someone like Al Capone,” Crosta said. “But this was someone who mingled with the country’s elite, who blended in.”
Tanzanian officials sent to arrest Yang last week surrounded her house for seven hours. She managed to sneak out a side door and jump into her car. She then led authorities on a car chase through part of the city.
“Eventually we cornered her,” the senior Tanzanian official said. “She put her hands up.”
Then Tanzanian law enforcement agents got their first up-close look at the woman they referred to as the Queen of Ivory. She was out of breath after running from them.
“That is the shark we were chasing,” the Tanzanian official said." Image from Washington Post
"She is the vice-president and secretary-general of the Tanzania China-Africa business council."...
10/8/15, "Chinese 'ivory queen' charged with smuggling 706 elephant tusks," UK Guardian, David Smith
"Yang Feng Glan, kingpin between east African poaching syndicates and Chinese buyers, accused in Tanzania of smuggling ivory worth £1.62m"
"The government has been heavily criticised for its inability to stop the flow and for turning a blind eye to so-called kingpins linked to the large and influential Chinese community in the country. It is extremely unusual for an ivory kingpin, especially a Chinese national, to appear in court.
The Elephant Action League said Glan is originally from Beijing and owns several properties and many cars. She learned Swahili and moved to Tanzania in 1975 as a translator when China was building a railway.
“According to the first information collected by the task force, she has been trafficking ivory since at least 2006, working with the most high-ranking poachers in the country and in the region. She is connected to various companies abroad, all Chinese-owned, and circulates in the upper echelons of Chinese citizens living and working in Tanzania.”
She is the vice-president and secretary-general of the Tanzania China-Africa business council, it added, and owns the biggest Chinese restaurant at Dar es Salaam station....
Yang’s court appearance came just a week after another Chinese woman, Li Ling Ling, was charged by the same court along with four Tanzanians with aiding the smuggling of ivory to Switzerland.
Last December Kenyan national Feisal Ali Mohammed, a suspected organised crime boss alleged to be a leading figure in the illegal ivory trade, was arrested by Interpol agents in Tanzania."