Three years ago, U.S. and Chilean officials began an operation to capture Juancho Lobos, the head of a flourishing wildlife trafficking organization operating out of the Peruvian jungle. After being found in Peru, Lobos was extradited to the United States, where he was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Now a U.S. federal court is preparing to rule on Lobos’s fate as a political asylum seeker. U.S. officials say Lobos poses a risk to American security because of his connections to an Islamist terrorist network. His defense lawyer, James Holtz, argues that Lobos has political asylum and that the transnational wildlife trafficking would be effectively eradicated in an era without Lobos. The American court is considering whether to grant Lobos asylum. And if they grant asylum, who will be put on trial?
Here is my story on this surprising last day of Lobos’s trial.
A historical portrait of Lobos, who lives in a small Peruvian hamlet near the Chilean border. (Barbara Bryant and Evan, l, c, g, e, h, h)
In 2009, the authorities in Colombia and Chile began investigation Lobos. In the course of the investigation, they learned Lobos was involved in two trafficking rings that engaged in the illegal import of white rhino horns and tusks for the purpose of endangering the life of a raptor or other protected animal species (either pangolin or giant panda). (page 147)
Lobos’s organization is called the Shafey’s Cultural Wildlife Society, and the purported organizational structure of Lobos’ organization was organized according to Shafey tradition and “to the best of Lobos’s knowledge.” (page 55)
Lobos said that he set up the organization after receiving an inheritance and that he became wealthy by running his own anti-poaching group in the Peruvian forest. (page 58)
Lobos has explained how his drug trafficking organization employed 522 people and procured 20 tons of heroin a year. Investigators found a diagram on Lobos’s office wall of the multi-level hierarchy of the smuggling organization. The map described a pyramid-shaped organization with one kingpin at the top of the structure and composed of 80 members. In addition to the leader at the top, Lobos said there were five secretaries, three general secretaries, two block-heads, six sergeant at arms, a security chief, a driver, cooks, tax collectors, financiers, self-defense officers, shipliers, fishermen, to trace further down the hierarchy.
Defense attorney James Holtz called Lobos’ intelligence report nothing more than a marketing tool, an attempt to obtain legitimacy for a nefarious organization. Holtz said Lobos would testify to the hypothetical scenario in which a terrorist organization uses the knowledge gained from Lobos to infiltrate law enforcement. (page 74)
Holtz said Lobos would testify that the drugs allowed him to go on a jet ski trip through the Peruvian Amazon, as he also testified in 2010. (page 168)