A Taste for Pangolin Meat and the Fall of an African Wildlife Cartel

“For Malawi, this shows that there’s no sacred cow,” Mr. Kaonga stated. “Money cannot save you, and there’s a limit to what corruption can actually get you.”

The Chinese embassy in Malawi didn’t reply to questions on the case.

Eighteen different members of Mr. Lin’s community — together with 4 shut kin — have additionally been prosecuted for crimes together with possession of ivory, pangolin scales, rhino horn, unlawful firearms and explosives. Additionally, Mr. Lin’s daughter and one other alleged affiliate have been charged with cash laundering.

Many of Mr. Lin’s associates had been Chinese, however he additionally labored intently with a quantity of Malawians. One man, Aaron Dyson, a fluent Mandarin speaker, is now serving 15 years in jail for possessing and dealing in ivory.

“You’re looking at an entire Chinese-led network that is being dismantled,” Ms. Douglas-Hamilton stated. “It’s a huge win for wildlife.”

The Malawi police started investigating Mr. Lin’s community in early 2015. In December 2017, they caught his spouse and son-in-law shopping for ivory from a Zambian nationwide and arrested them. Mr. Lin, nonetheless, continued to evade detection, and the case towards his relations went chilly.

A main break got here in May 2019, when the police pulled over Mr. Lin’s driver and discovered three reside pangolins in the trunk of his automobile. As they questioned the driver, “Mr. Lin was calling incessantly, leaving voice notes asking, ‘Where are you?’” Mr. Kaonga stated. “He wanted to eat the pangolin meat, and that’s what put him in trouble.”

This gave the police grounds to conduct simultaneous raids on a number of of Mr. Lin’s industrial and residential properties in Lilongwe. Sniffer canine led them to ivory, pangolin scales, items of rhino horn and unlawful firearms. They made a quantity of arrests, together with the rearrest of Mr. Lin’s spouse and son-in-law. But Mr. Lin was nowhere to be discovered.

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