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U.S. charges Canadian antiques dealer with smuggling wildlife

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An antiques dealer in British Columbia was indicted by a U.S. grand jury on Tuesday for smuggling into Canada more than $500,000 of wildlife items, including rhinoceros horns and sculptures made from elephant ivory and coral, U.S. prosecutors said.

Xiao Ju "Tony" Guan, 39, was accused of buying the goods through a Manhattan-based online auction house, and with the help of others smuggling them out of the United States.

Prosecutors said Guan would sometimes mail items directly to Canada with false paperwork and without the required declarations.

On other occasions, he would allegedly ship the items to Point Roberts, Washington, less than a mile from the border, use mislabeled boxes to deceive customs and border protection agents, and then take smuggled items to his business in Richmond, British Columbia, near Vancouver.

"There is an ever-expanding black market for objects made from endangered species that fuels the devastating and senseless slaughter of noble animals," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York said in a statement. "The charges levied today are designed to deal a heavy blow to those that are deliberately profiting from the trade in rare and endangered species."

Prosecutors said Guan was arrested after flying to New York to buy two black rhinoceros horns for $45,000 from undercover special agents with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and then arranging to ship them to Point Roberts.

Guan labeled a box containing the horns as "handicrafts" worth only $200, and indicated that he had often had people drive similar items across the border, prosecutors said.

A federal public defender assigned to Guan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Canadian authorities have also searched Guan's Richmond business, U.S. prosecutors added.

The case is part of "Operation Crash," meant to crack down on illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horns.

Guan was charged with attempted smuggling, falsifying wildlife records and conspiracy. The smuggling charge carries a maximum 10-year prison term.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Gunna Dickson)