Indian businessman in NY pleads guilty to illegal ivory sales

 An Indian-American businessman here has pleaded guilty to selling jewellery and artifacts in Manhattan worth over USD two million made from illegal ivory obtained from endangered and threatened elephants from Africa.

Mukesh Gupta, 67, alongwith Johnson Jung-Chien Lu, 56, entered into a plea agreement with the Manhattan District Attorney's office under which Gupta and his firm Raja Jewels must forfeit elephant ivory worth nearly USD two million.

The investigation led to the seizure of close to one ton of illegal ivory articles and items.
Gupta, Lu and their companies pled guilty to five counts of illegal commercialization of wildlife.

"Poachers should not have a market in Manhattan," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in a statement.

"It is unacceptable that tusks from elephants wind up being sold as mass-produced jewelry and unremarkable decorative items in this city."

Under the plea agreement, Gupta and his company are also required to pay USD 45,000, which will be donated to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) for use in the organization’s projects involving elephant population protection, anti-poaching efforts and combating the illegal ivory trade.

Lu and his company New York Jewelry Mart must forfeit ivory valued at approximately USD 120,000 and pay USD 10,000 to be donated to the WCS.

Vance said despite efforts to protect populations of endangered and threatened species, poachers are pushing them to the brink of extinction.

"In order to curb the poaching of elephants in Africa and Asia, we need to curb the demand side of the illegal ivory trade right here at home," he said, adding that Gupta and Lu's guilty pleas are a small, but important, step in protecting endangered and threatened elephant species.

According to documents filed in court, Gupta illegally sold elephant ivory from his Manhattan store and supplied the ivory to Lu.

Investigators and agents seized elephant ivory articles, including bracelets, carved tusks, earrings, charms, pendants, carvings and beads.

The elephant ivory items seized from Raja Jewels, which filled more than 70 boxes, had a retail value of more than USD two million.

Neither Gupta nor Lu had official permits to sell ivory.

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