Mozambican police on Sunday arrested a Vietnamese citizen, Ho Chien, at Maputo International airport in possession of six rhinoceros horns, weighing about 17 kilos.
According to a report on the independent television station STV, Ho Chien was arrested as he was about to embark on an international flight. His detention was the result of joint work by the police, the customs service, and the veterinary department of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Ho had packed the rhino horns in a suitcase also containing clothing. Each horn had been wrapped in tinfoil, and surrounded with garlic in an attempt to disguise the smell of rotting flesh.
The horns presumably came from rhinos poached in South Africa, since the rhinoceros is believed to be extinct in southern Mozambique.
The police did not reveal Chien’s final destination. But if he was returning to his native Vietnam he could have sold the horns for up to 65,000 US dollars a kilo – which is more expensive than either gold or cocaine. 17 kilos would have netted him about 1.1 million dollars.
Last year, the Mozambican police made three arrests of Vietnamese citizens at the airport in the northern city of Pemba, trying to smuggle rhino horn out of the country.
In early January, police at Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam arrested a man named Ha Cha Chinh, who arrived from Maputo, via Doha, carrying six rhino horns weighing 16.5 kilos.
On the same day, another Vietnamese was arrested at Bangkok airport with a further six rhino horns – these ones were somewhat smaller, weighing only 10.6 kilos. He too had come from Mozambique, and was waiting for a flight to the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.
The demand for rhino horn in parts of Asia is driven by absurd beliefs, eagerly peddled by charlatans hoping to get very rich, that the powdered horn is a cure for everything from hangovers to cancer.
In reality, rhino horn has no medicinal qualities whatever, since it is mostly made of keratin, the same protein found in human hair and fingernails.