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Thailand sentences 3 to prison over smuggling of rhino horns

FILE - In this March 14, 2017, file photo, Thai Customs officers display seized rhino horns during a press conference at the customs office in Suvarnabhumi airport, Thailand. A Thai court has sentenced on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, three people to prison over the smuggling of nearly two dozen rhinoceros horns worth $1.5 million from Ethiopia. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit, File)

BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai court on Tuesday sentenced three people to prison over the smuggling of nearly two dozen rhinoceros horns from Ethiopia worth $1.5 million.

The bags carrying the 21 horns were discovered in March last year in a random customs search at Bangkok’s main airport. Officials found the horns, weighing almost 50 kilograms (110 pounds), inside luggage originating from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.

A court in central Thailand handed four-year prison sentences to two Thai women who attempted to claim the luggage before they fled as officers searched their bags, and a public prosecutor who tried to convince airport security to not check the bags.

A court statement said Worapas Boonsri, a former public prosecutor, told officials at the airport that the luggage contained wine and he asked airport security to not to check it. He also resisted later attempts by officials to open the luggage and suggested that it be placed back on the airport’s conveyor belt so it could be declared as luggage with no owner while he also offered bribes to officials, the statement said.

His actions revealed that he knew what was inside the bag, it said.

The three were convicted of smuggling restricted items into the country and evading customs taxes.

Rhinoceros horns, blood, skin and urine are in high demand across Asia for their use in traditional Chinese medicine. Demand for the products has soared in Asia, particularly Vietnam, where they are considered a luxury item, according to the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

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