Court Jails 3 Vietnamese, 1 Guinean For Wildlife Trafficking

A Lagos Federal High Court on Wednesday, convicted and sentenced four foreigners to six years imprisonment for wildlife trafficking.

The convicted foreign nationals are: Phan Viet Chi, Phan Hong Quan and Duong Van Thang and Mory Berrette, who are Vietnamese and Guinean respectively.

Justice Yelim Bogoro who presided over the court, convicted the four foreigners following their plea of “guilty” to an amended four-count charge in a plea bargain agreement.

Specifically, the court sentenced each of the four men to three years imprisonment on the first count or the sum of N500,000 each as fine in lieu of imprisonment.

“Two years imprisonment on the second count, or in lieu of imprisonment pay the sum of N2 million each as a fine.

“That the convicts shall each pay a fine in the sum of N2 million each for the third count, being first-time offenders.

“That the convicts shall each be sentenced to one year imprisonment on the fourth count or fine option of N200, 000 each lieu of imprisonment as fine.”

The four convicts have been in the custodian Nigeria Customs Services, since May 2021, but were arraigned before the court on July 22, 2022, alongside two Nigerians, Babangida Mahmoud and Olamilekan Adenekan, and a Cameroonian, Fofou Dadjo Evariste.

The convicts and other defendants were arraigned on charges bordering on alleged illegal possession dealing in, assembling, storing, smuggling and trading in pangolin scale and elephant’s ivory.

They were arrested during a joint Wildlife Enforcement operations by Nigeria Customs Service( NCS) and Wildlife Justice Commission( WJC) in May 2021.

The prosecutor, Barrister Micheal Esong told the court that all the defendants committed the offences between 2018 and 2022, in Lagos.

The defendants however pleaded not guilty initially and the trial commenced.On June 12, the Vietnamese defendants’ counsel, Mr. MacAnthony I. told Justice Yelim Bogoro that they have written to NCS for a plea bargain agreement but that the process was yet to be concluded.He prayed the court for a short adjournment.

The NCS’ Director of Prosecution, Mr. Smart Akande, who led Mr. Michael Osong, confirmed Ikariale’s position. Justice Bogoro granted the application and adjourned till July 19.

At the resumption of trial on Wednesday, Akande, who led Osong, appeared for the prosecution.

Akande informed Justice Bogoro that the “first, second, third and fourth defendants have hinted to our office that they’re willing to change their plea.

“Pursuant to that, we have filed an amended charge which we urge the court to adopt and take the plea of the defendants.”

Following the court’s approval, the amended charge was read to the first to fourth defendants. And they all pleaded guilty to each of the four counts.

Justice Bogoro held: “The prosecution had called its first witness which gave evidence and was duly cross-examined. But on the 12th of July, 2023, the first to third defendants hinted to the court about their intention to change their plea via a plea bargaining arrangement.

“Today, 19th of July, the prosecution filed the terms of the plea bargain agreement. In view of this, I find the first to fourth defendants guilty as charged and adopt the sentence therein.

”However, the fifth, sixth and seventh defendants maintained their “not guilty” plea to the charges.

The judge granted an application by the prosecution to confiscate the pangolin skins recovered from the defendants and adjourned till November 5, 6, 7 and 9, for trial of the fifth, sixth and seventh defendants.