Record illegal wildlife seizure results in guilty plea from Sydney school teacher
19 April 2013
A Parramatta man has entered a guilty plea in the Parramatta Local Court to 24 charges of possessing illegal wildlife products made from endangered species.
The charges against the 43-year-old school teacher, John Kolettas, relate to the haul of illegal wildlife products found during a search of premises in Western Sydney. Mr Kolettas' home was targeted as part of an extensive criminal investigation called Operation Bonaparte.
Altogether, 61 illegal wildlife products made from 24 endangered species were found in Mr Kolettas' possession. Among the illegal products seized were 11 orangutan skulls and 25 other skulls of monkeys, lynx, bears and a tiger. Other illegal items included teeth and skins from protected species such as orangutans, lynx, otters, and a feather headdress from a bird of paradise.
This is the largest illegal wildlife seizure by the federal environment department and it further demonstrates Australia's commitment to stamp out crime involving endangered species.
The sentencing hearing for the case is scheduled for 21 June 2013.
In addition to the illegal items seized, the Australian Government gathered intelligence that is vital in its continued efforts to fight wildlife crime.
The illegal trade in wildlife is driving the decline of many species around the world. In recent years, it has become more widespread and lucrative. Illegal wildlife trade is now valued in the billions of dollars worldwide and Interpol has linked it to funding criminal groups.
The success of Operation Bonaparte is the result of governments working together to combat the threat of wildlife trafficking.
Operation Bonaparte was the result of an extensive investigation led by the federal environment department and carried out with the cooperation of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the NSW Office of the Environment and Heritage, the NSW Police and the RSPCA.
The charges in this criminal case relate to wildlife that is listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Under Australian law, it is illegal to import these species, or parts of them, into the country without a permit. It is also an offence to possess items that have been illegally imported by someone else.
The maximum penalty for wildlife trade offences is 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $170 000 for individuals and up to $850 000 for corporations.
Australia is one of 178 countries that are signatories to CITES. Collectors, travellers and online shoppers, in particular, are urged to be aware of how their purchases may contribute to the decline in endangered species populations. They need to thoroughly research what they are buying or face the risk of prosecution, heavy fines or imprisonment either in Australia or overseas.
Those with information about trade in illegal wildlife or wildlife products should contact the federal environment department on 02 6274 1900 or email@example.com.
Media contact: 02 6275 9880 or firstname.lastname@example.org