Maputo — The Mozambican police announced on Tuesday that they have arrested a 28 year old Vietnamese man who was caught attempting to smuggle four rhinoceros horns, weighing 7.2 kilos, out of the country.
The Vietnamese, named Nguyen Van Tinh on his travel documents, was detained at Maputo International Airport on Sunday. He was supposed to be flying to South Korea, but the police are certain that his final destination was Vietnam.
Speaking to the independent television station STV, Van Tinh claimed he had no idea that any forbidden items were in the suitcase, and believed that it contained clothes.
He said a taxi-driver, whose name he did not know, gave him the suitcase. “I didn't know what was inside it, because it was very well closed”, he said. The unnamed taxi driver “told me it had clothes and shoes for his wife. I only had to arrive and deliver the suitcase. He would pay me 50,000”.
Presumably Van Tinh meant 50,000 meticais, rather than 50,000 US dollars. But 50,000 meticais is over 800 dollars, an extraordinarily large sum to pay someone for carrying a suitcase full of clothes.
Van Tinh spoke good Portuguese. He said he works in Angola as a photographer, and came to Maputo to gamble at the local casino.
The police do not believe a word of his story, and the Maputo City police spokesperson, Orlando Mudumane, said he will be charged with trafficking in illicit wildlife products.
Vietnamese criminal gangs are driving all five rhinoceros species (three in Asia and two in Africa) towards extinction because of an insatiable demand for rhino horn among the Vietnamese elite who believe it can cure all manner of ailments from hangovers to cancer. Since rhino horn consists mostly of keratin, the same protein found in human hair and fingernails, its effectiveness as a remedy for anything is precisely nil.
The current price of rhino horn in Vietnam is about 100,000 dollars a kilo - so the horns in Nguyen Van Tinh's suitcase were worth 720,000 dollars. This means that rhino horn is more expensive than gold or cocaine.
It is not known where Van Tinh's horns came from - but since both African species (the black and the white rhino) are believed to be extinct in southern Mozambique, it is likely that the horns came from animals poached in South Africa.