An Indian-origin jewellery trader, a former president and CEO of an upscale jewelry manufacturing company, has been sentenced to prison and ordered to pay a USD 1.1 million fine for his role in a scheme to illegally import protected black coral into the US.
Ashu Bhandari is the former president and CEO of GEM Manufacturing, which is based in the US Virgin Islands.
The federal court in Virgin Islands imposed a fine of over USD 900,000 and sentenced Bhandari to one month in jail, to be followed by one month of home confinement and one year of supervised release, during which he would be required to complete 300 hours of community service and be banned from any business venture involving coral or coral products.
The court said the light sentence for Bhandari was due to his cooperation with federal investigators in related illicit coral trafficking cases.
In addition to the fine, Bhandari would also be required to pay over USD 200,000 to the University of the Virgin Islands to be used for community service projects designed to research and protect black corals, the US Department of Justice said in a statement here.
Bhandari is the last defendant to be sentenced in a far reaching investigation into the illegal trade in black coral.
In 2011, Bhandari's company had been ordered to pay USD 4.47 million in financial penalties and two of his trading partners were sent to prison.
Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice Ignacia Moreno said that Bhandari "actively participated in an illegal scheme to traffic in protected black coral, a trade that has helped deplete a world resource that serves as essential habitat for marine biodiversity."
Bhandari had pleaded guilty in November last year to one felony count of false classification of goods for his efforts to conceal his illegal importation of internationally protected black coral in 2009.