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Illegal export 'Rathkeale Rovers' trio among group accused of trafficking rhino horns and elephant tusks

In a trial which opened this morning nine defendants are accused of trafficking €13 million worth or ivory and tusks destined for the Vietnamese market

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Horns from endangered black rhinos taken from Rathkeale Rovers gang member Michael Slattery who was jailed in 2015. Photo: AP

Horns from endangered black rhinos taken from Rathkeale Rovers gang member Michael Slattery who was jailed in 2015. Photo: AP

Horns from endangered black rhinos taken from Rathkeale Rovers gang member Michael Slattery who was jailed in 2015. Photo: AP

Three members of the “Rathkeale Rovers” are among group accused of trafficking rhino horns and elephant tusk in France.

In a trial which opened this morning nine defendants are accused of trafficking €13 million worth or ivory and tusks destined for the Vietnamese market.

French prosecutors started their investigation after a random motorway traffic inspection by police in September 2015 that led to the discovery of several elephant tusks and €32,800 euros in a BMW.

The occupants of the car, who claimed they were antique dealers, are allegedly members of the Rathkeale Rovers with addresses in the UK and Ireland.

The Robin des Bois Assocation which has brought a civil case against nine people alleged auction houses in France had facilitated the illegal export of the horns and tusks.

French police also discovered that ivory and rhino horn were being turned into powder, flakes, and on French soil before being exported to Vietnam and China where they are used in traditional medicine.

One exceptionally large horn weighing nearly 15 kilos was seized during the investigation, which would have been worth €13 million according to environmental group Robin des Bois.

Around 40 elephant tusks were also discovered.

"Before smuggling, its bargaining and swindles, there is poaching with its cruelties," the group said in a statement.

"Wildlife trafficking also contributes to the destruction and impoverishment of ecosystems, encourages speculation in elephant ivory and rhino horns and thus stimulates poaching."

They said after the September 2015 seizure investigators from the National Judicial Customs Service made more seizures in Paris warehouse in May 2016.

“On November 15, 2016, in a room of the B&B hotel in Creil near to Paris, two brothers of Irish and English origin were intercepted with a rhinoceros horn of exceptional weight (14.7 kg) devoid of any document justifying its legal origin.

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“The seizure took place close to the “Dragon de Saint-Maximin”, a Chinese restaurant whose manager is one of the defendants.”

The Rathkeale Rovers were the target of Operation Oakleaf by European police in 2010 that led to 31 people being arrested, including for the theft of rhino horns.

The nine defendants this week are being prosecuted for “unauthorized possession or transport in an organized group, of an animal of a non-domesticated species or its products”, and also for the export of these products. They are also accused of participating in a criminal association.

They face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and fines of up to €750,000

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