Several Chinese businessmen and officials might have engaged in criminal behavior during President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Tanzania in March 2013, smuggling a huge cache of ivory out of the country. These allegations have been made in a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a London-based advocacy group.
If true, the allegations would seriously undermine claims by the Chinese government that it is working to end the illegal ivory trade. China is the world’s biggest importer and Tanzania is the largest exporter of elephant ivory, the AP reports.
The EIA says that Chinese crime syndicates came together with Tanzanian officials to plan the heist, in which a large amount of elephant tusks were smuggled in diplomatic bags out of the country on President Xi’s own plane. The amount of ivory bought was so great that prices doubled, according to the report.
China denies the truth of these dramatic claims. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei counters that China continues to oppose poaching and is trying to eliminate the ivory trade.
“The report is groundless, and we express our strong dissatisfaction,” Hong said in a press briefing.
Other Chinese officials also questioned the report. Meng Xianlin, director general of the Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office of China called it irresponsible. The EIA has been “unfriendly to China for quite some time,” according to the official.
“I don’t think there’s hard evidence, and I have not seen such cases. Allegations without evidence are not believable,” Meng said, calling the report a “mess.”
It has been estimated that half of Tanzania’s elephants have been killed by poachers in the last five years alone.