A Malawi Magistrate’s Court in the capital, Lilongwe, has sentenced a Chinese national, described by some as one of the biggest African wildlife trafficking kingpins, to 32 years in prison after convicting him on three wildlife crimes. The court, however, said the sentences will run concurrently for 14 years and then there is a plan to deport him. But the convict is looking to appeal the sentence.
Judge Justice Violet Chipao on Tuesday sentenced Lin Yunhua to 14 years in prison for trading in rhino horn, 14 years for possession of rhino horn and an additional six years for money laundering. Justice Chipao however said the sentences will run concurrently, meaning that Lin will serve a total of 14 years.
Lin, a Chinese national and the leader of wildlife trafficking syndicate Lin-Zhang gang — named after the husband-and-wife leaders — has been operating out of Malawi for at least a decade. Malawi’s authorities arrested him in August 2019 following a three-month manhunt.
Prosecution lawyer, Andy Kaonga says Lin would face another punishment after completing the sentence.
“Once he serves the sentence, our colleagues at the DPP [Director of Public Prosecution] office will probably take it to the minister of homeland security and then start the process of his deportation because the court has recommended that he should be deported from the country,” he said.
The sentencing of Lin brings the number of wildlife trafficking syndicate members sent to prison to 14. These include four Malawian and 10 Chinese nationals, including Lin’s wife currently serving an 11-year prison term. Lin’s daughter was also arrested in December 2020 for alleged money laundering offences. Her trial is ongoing.
Brighton Kumchedwa, Malawi’s director of the Department of National Parks & Wildlife, warned that the crackdown on members of the Lin-Zhang gang should send a message to other wildlife trafficking syndicates.
“We are now starting to deal with the sponsors, the king pins. My message to these syndicates is ‘they should watch out; Malawi is not a playing ground. We eventually will get to them. So, they better stop,” he said.
Kumchedwa says the crackdown is a result of new strategies the government put in place toward combating wildlife crimes.
“From 2015 thereabout we changed completely the game of handling wildlife crimes. So, we used [our] own intelligence combined with police intelligence. We also used sniffer dogs in the process. So, it’s different strategies that have seen us going this far,” he said.
Mary Rice is the executive director of the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an organization campaigning against environmental crimes and abuse. Speaking to VOA via a messaging app from London, Rice says the crackdown shows Malawi’s commitment to bring high-level wildlife criminals to justice,
“It was not an easy road. But the tenacity and resilience of the investigators, the lawyers and the judge who made some very, very interesting comments in the sentencing, they are all to be applauded for their work. We know there have been many, many obstacles along the way. So, I think it’s a great result,” she said.
Defense lawyer Chrispine Ndalama told VOA Tuesday his client is considering appealing against the sentence.
“Of course, over the phone, the client indicated that he would want to appeal but I will have to look at the judgment first, to see and understand the reasoning of the court so that I can advise my client properly as to whether we need to appeal or not,” he said.
Ndalama says he expected the court to give Lin a lesser sentence because he pleaded guilty to charges of possession of wildlife products.
The court has given the defense 30 days to appeal the sentence.