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Zarauskas is described as a collector and dealer of antiques, as well as narwhal tusks and sperm-whale teeth. Ironically, he had previously helped convict five people on charges of illegally selling sperm-whale teeth.
According to prosecutors the tusks were brought into Maine, in the north-eastern US, by Gregory Logan, and his wife, Nina Logan, both New Brunswick residents, using a trailer with a smuggling compartment. The tusks were then shipped to purchasers in the US, including Zarauskas and two others who plead guilty last year on similar charges.
The Logans are said to have received payment at a US bank, but prosecutors argued Zarauskas knew full well the money would be taken to Canada, thus facilitating further illegal trade.
Narwhals are protected under various national and international treaties. The Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora bans their hunting in Canada and Greenland by anyone other than the Inuit. Canadian tusks may be sold domestically or shipped abroad to countries where their sale is legal. Imports of tusks to the US are banned under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The Logans are alleged to have purchased the tusks legally in northern Canada and then used the internet to find buyers in the US. The two are also said to have sold the tusks at flea markets in the US for about $30 a centimetre.
Between 2000 and 2010, they are estimated to have sold between $400,000 and $1 million worth of tusks to as many as 150 buyers.
“The conspiracy we’ve alleged was over a period of 10 years, so there appears to have been enough of a market to support that length of conduct,”Todd Mikolop, a US federal prosecutor specialising in environmental crimes, said last year.
The Logans, whose criminal proceedings in Canada resulted in four months house arrest, a fine and other restrictions for Robert Logan and a dismissal for Nina Logan, are awaiting extradition to the US.