A notorious Kenyan poacher who was recently extradited to the United States from his home country pleaded not guilty to illegally trafficking elephant ivory and rhino horn when he appeared before a Manhattan federal court on Monday. The accused, 60-year-old Mansur Mohamed Surur, was arrested by local authorities in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa in July 2020.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, in a statement, said Surur was part of a “transnational criminal enterprise” that was based in Uganda and other neighboring countries and was responsible for illegally poaching and killing over 100 elephants and over 30 rhinos for their ivory and horns. Both animals are listed as endangered wildlife species. Surur and his group allegedly made approximately over $7 million from selling the contraband between 2012 and 2019.
During that period, Surur and his ring members conspired to transport, distribute, sell, and smuggle over 150 kilos of rhino horns and roughly 10 tons of elephant ivory to interested buyers in Manhattan as well as other countries in Southeast Asia. The contraband was allegedly obtained and transported from East African countries including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, and Tanzania. The syndicate allegedly hid the ivory and horns in art pieces including African masks and statues.
Prosecutors allege Surur and his co-conspirators received and deposited funds obtained from their foreign customers through “international wire transfers, some which were sent through U.S. financial institutions.”
Surur also faces additional charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 10 kilograms of heroin, the statement said. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the money laundering charge, while he is also looking at either a maximum life imprisonment sentence or a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence if found guilty of the heroin charge.
“Mansur Mohamed Surur is alleged to be a member of an international conspiracy to traffic in rhino horns, elephant ivory, and heroin. The enterprise is allegedly responsible for the illegal slaughter of dozens of rhinos and more than 100 elephants, both endangered species,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said.
Two of his co-conspirators, a Liberian by name Moazu Kromah and Amara Cherif – a Guinean, are also in custody in the United States. The department said a third Kenyan suspect, Abdi Hussein Ahmed, remains at large.