Medicine store fined £20k for using endangered plants

22 August 2012

An item seized during the 22 February raids in London

A traditional Chinese medicine company which sold herbal remedies containing endangered plants on a central London high street has been fined more than £20,000 by Westminster Magistrates' Court.

Beijing Tong Ren Tang (UK) Ltd, which has a high street shop in Westminster and a warehouse in Brent, pleaded guilty to two charges of transporting for sale and five charges of keeping for sale traditional Chinese medicines suspected of containing or claiming to contain ingredients derived from endangered plant species, namely Aucklandia costus, dendrobium, cibotium barometz, gastrodia and cistanche deserticola.

On 22 February 2010, the Met Police Service's Wildlife Crime Unit led a series of raids in London, under the MPS's Operation Charm, after receiving intelligence that endangered species of plants and animals were being used in traditional Chinese medicines.

MPS officers, in conjunction with the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit, UK Border Agency and the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, executed search warrants at a shop in Shaftesbury Avenue W1, a warehouse in Commercial Way NW10 and a property in St John's Wood Road NW8, all linked to Beijing Tong Ren Tang (UK) Ltd.

Following extensive searches of the addresses a substantial number of items were seized from the shop and warehouse and examinations suggested that some plant material found on the premises contravened the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species which covers more than 3,000 animals and 28,000 plants.

This police work was part of a co-ordinated worldwide response against wildlife crime known as 'Operation Tram', a month of action against wildlife crime in 18 countries, across five continents, orchestrated by Interpol. Traditional medicines seized during the global operation have included ingredients derived from tiger, bear and rhinoceros among many others.

Following the seizures of the illegal plant remedies in central London, the director of Beijing Tong Ren Tang was interviewed by officers and claimed that two versions of the herbal remedies with the same general packaging were available worldwide and the company always endeavoured to stock the correct version which did not contain the banned product.

However in summing up the case, Judge Studdert stated that there had been a serious departure from the rules that should have been followed in relation to the trade of these species.

On Monday, 20 August, at Westminster Magistrates' Court, the company was fined £21,000 for the seven charges and ordered to pay costs.

Sergeant Ian Knox from the MPS's Wildlife Crime Unit said: "Most traditional Chinese medicines are perfectly legal. However, a small number of people continue to trade in illegal products containing ingredients from endangered species. This trade threatens some of the world's most iconic species, and it will continue as long as the demand exists."

"The MPS works closely with the Chinese medicine trade to increase awareness of banned products and ensure that legal alternatives are used instead. We all have a part to play in stopping the illegal trade, and if anyone has suspicions about products they have seen on sale I would urge them to contact the police."