CHITA, June 19 (RAPSI) – Two Russian men face a possible death sentence after they were detained by Chinese customs officers for smuggling bear paws, a Foreign Ministry representative said.
Customs officers found 213 bear paws worth an estimated value of 2.8m yuan ($460,000) hidden inside the tires of a vehicle crossing from Russia into China in Manzhuoli, Inner Mongolia, on May 22, the Chinese Global Times newspaper reported.
The seizure is the largest bear paw smuggling operation uncovered in China to date, the paper said.
Bear parts are considered a delicacy in China and are also prized for their perceived medicinal value, but their sale is illegal. The penalty for smuggling animal parts in China ranges from five years in prison to a death penalty.
Bear paws are worth 10 times more in China than in Russia where they cost 2,000 rubles ($63) a kilogram, Chinese police said.
Foreign Ministry representative Alexei Kotelnikov said the two Russians, from the Trans-Baikal Territory in Siberia, are being held in a pretrial detention center in Inner Mongolia.
In 2008 two Trans-Baikal Territory residents were sentenced to life in prison for smuggling deer antlers, Kotelnikov said.
The Foreign Ministry office in Chita received information about the men’s detention from the Russian Embassy in China. However, the relatives of the two men, who left for China on May 22, had already notified the office that they had not returned.