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St. Cloud professor charged with smuggling ivory and rhino horns to China

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A St. Cloud State University professor has been charged with smuggling elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns into China.

Yiwei Zheng, a philosophy professor living in St. Cloud, was charged with six federal counts in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, which the Associated Press reports includes charges of smuggling and of making false statements to agents.

KSTP reports that authorities allege Zheng – who is originally from China but now has U.S. citizenship – exported protected items into his native country from the U.S. He also allegedly worked with co-conspirators to import items containing ivory or rhino horn into the U.S.

Elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn cannot be exported from the U.S. without the express approval of the federal government, KSTP adds, as they are protected under the convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

The Star Tribune reports that Zheng has taught at the university since 1999 and that he was arrested Tuesday morning at a restaurant in St. Cloud.

Agents claim he initially told them he had sold horns to a man he met at McDonald's. But authorities allege he was found to have been exporting the horns to someone in China, the newspaper notes.

Illicit goods made with ivory or rhino horn have high value in China and other Asian countries, with Quartz reporting that the price of rhino horn at the end of 2013 was anywhere between $21,000 and $27,000 per pound.

KSTP notes that Zheng is expected to be released on an unsecured bond on Tuesday. He has been ordered not to leave the country and to hand over his passport.

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