Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that MANSUR MOHAMED SURUR, alias “Mansour”, a Kenyan citizen, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to traffic the horns of rhinoceros and elephant ivory, both endangered. wildlife, which involved the illegal poaching of more than about 35 rhinos and more than 100 elephants. SURUR also pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute heroin to a purchaser located in the United States.
Two of SURUR’s co-defendants, MOAZU KROMAH, alias “Ayoub”, alias “Ayuba”, alias “Kampala Man”, a Liberian citizen, and AMARA CHERIF, alias /a “Bamba Issiaka”, a Guinean citizen, had previously pleaded guilty on 30 March 2022 and April 27, 2022, respectively, of conspiracy to traffic rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory, as well as substantial charges of trafficking rhinoceros horn. The other accused, BADRU ABDUL AZIZ SALEH, alias “Badro”, and ABDI HUSSEIN AHMED, alias “Abu Khadi”, are both Kenyan citizens. SALEH is being held in Kenya on the basis of a US extradition request, and AHMED remains a fugitive. The U.S. Department of State has offered a reward of up to $1,000,000 for information leading to his arrest and/or conviction, and any information can be provided to [email protected] or by calling 1- 844-FWS-TIPS.
US Attorney Damian Williams said, “Protecting endangered wildlife and natural resources is a critical and important priority for my office. These defendants were responsible for promoting an industry that illegally harvests species protected by international agreements around the world. One of these defendants also engaged in a narcotics conspiracy involving a large amount of heroin. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration, these defendants have now pleaded guilty to the serious and destructive crimes they committed.
According to the prosecution and other documents filed in the case, as well as statements made during plea and other proceedings:
KROMAH, CHERIF and SURUR were members of a transnational criminal enterprise (the “Enterprise”) based in Uganda and neighboring countries that engaged in the large-scale trafficking and smuggling of rhinoceros horn and ivory from elephant, two protected wild species. Trade involving endangered or threatened species violates several US laws, as well as international treaties implemented by certain US laws.
From December 2012 to at least May 2019 to at least May 2019, KROMAH, CHERIF, SURUR and others conspired to transport, distribute, sell and smuggle at least approximately 190 kilograms of rhino horn and at least about 10 tonnes of elephant ivory originating from or involving various countries in East Africa, including Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal and Tanzania, to buyers located in the United States and countries in Southeast Asia. These weights of rhino horn and elephant ivory are estimated to have involved the illegal poaching of more than about 35 rhinos and more than about 100 elephants. In total, the estimated average retail value of the rhino horn involved in the conspiracy was at least about $3.4 million, and the estimated average retail value of the elephant ivory involved in the conspiracy was at least about $4 million.
The defendants generally exported and agreed to export rhino horn and elephant ivory for delivery to foreign buyers, including certain rhino horn to a buyer represented as being in Manhattan, in packages which concealed the horns in, among other works of art such as African masks and statues. Defendants received and deposited payments from overseas customers that were sent in the form of international wire transfers, some of which were sent through US financial institutions, and paid in cash.
On or about March 16, 2018, law enforcement officers intercepted a package containing a black rhinoceros horn sold by the defendants and destined for a represented buyer in Manhattan. From or around March 2018 to or around May 2018, the defendants offered to sell additional rhino horns of varying weights, including horns weighing up to approximately seven kilograms. On or about July 17, 2018, law enforcement officers intercepted a package containing two rhino horns sold by the defendants and destined for a represented buyer in Manhattan.
Separately, from at least August 2018 to at least May 2019, SURUR conspired with others to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a large quantity of heroin to a purchaser depicted as being located in New York City.
KROMAH had previously been deported to the United States from Uganda, while CHERIF and SURUR had been extradited from Senegal and Kenya respectively. The defendants have been detained since their arrest and their arrival in this country.
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KROMAH, 52; CHERIF, 57; and SURUR, 62, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. In addition, KROMAH and CHERIF both pleaded to two counts of wildlife trafficking, each carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and SURUR also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intention of distributing one kilogram or more. of heroin, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The maximum potential penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Drug Enforcement Administration, and he thanked law enforcement authorities and conservation partners in Uganda and Kenya, including Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Uganda Police Force, Kenya Directorate of Criminal Investigations and Kenya Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, for their assistance in this investigation. Mr. Williams also thanked the US State Department and the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of International Affairs for their assistance.
The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Bureau’s Complex Fraud and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Sagar K. Ravi and Jarrod L. Schaeffer are in charge of the prosecutions.