Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Japanese man pleads guilty to trying to sell rare butterflies in U.S.

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A Japanese man pleaded guilty to charges of bringing rare, protected butterflies into the United States and trying to sell them.

Hisayoshi Kojima, 57, of Kyoto, Japan, entered guilty pleas Tuesday to 17 felony charges of violating environmental and customs laws.

He was scheduled to be sentenced April 19 and could face a maximum of 57 years in federal prison.

If Kojima pays a fine and restitution totaling more than $37,000 (euro28,662) before sentencing, prosecutors said they will recommend a 15-month prison term. He was arrested in August at Los Angeles International Airport.

In his plea agreement, Kojima admitted smuggling a pair of endangered Queen Alexandra's birdwings, the largest species of butterfly in the world.

He submitted a fake customs declaration describing the shipment as a gift of "dry butterfly'' worth $30, when it actually consisted of two Queen Alexandra's birdwings that had been sold for $8,500, prosecutors said.

Kojima also tried to sell an endangered Giant Swallowtail butterfly, a species from Jamaica that appears on the country's $1,000 banknote, prosecutors said.

All of the species listed in an indictment are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Most are also protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Kojima's arrest was part of a three-year undercover investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. - AP



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