A well-known Colombian fashion designer who sold leather handbags to celebrities will be extradited from Colombia to the United States to stand trial for alleged wildlife trafficking in the very first case of its kind.

On July 8, Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office announced that police authorities had arrested three individuals in Cali, on charges of illegally shipping leather goods made of exotic and endangered animal skins to the United States.

One of those arrested was fashion designer, Nancy González, whose clients have included Hollywood actress Salma Hayek and pop singer Britney Spears, according to the Associated Press.

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In announcing the arrest, the Attorney General’s Office outlined the gang’s modus operandi for moving the goods out of Colombia and into the US.

The gang would contact residents of Valle del Cauca department, of which Cali is the capital, and convince them to travel with the leather goods to the US. The travellers were paid $600 per trip and briefed to say the leather accessories were gifts for family or friends if authorities questioned them.

González’s products, including some made of crocodile and snake skin, have been exhibited at New York Fashion Week. Her personal website shows her goods as having been sold in department stores including Harrods and Bloomingdales, and across Europe and the US. According to Asuntos Legales, outside of Colombia, González’s wallets can fetch between $510 and $10,000, depending on the model.

The gang face up to 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, W Radio reported.

InSight Crime Analysis

Nancy González and the other two suspects will be the first to be extradited from Latin America to the United States, on charges of participating in the illegal trade of leather goods made from endangered animals.

The extradition will set a precedent in a region that is highly attractive to wildlife traffickers. Yet whether the region’s governments have the capacity to chase down traffickers remains debatable.

Colombia is among the most biodiverse countries on earth, with a biosphere offering vast potential for criminal organizations to plunder.

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But the country struggles to stem such crimes. Few seizures are made in many of Colombia’s poaching hotspots, due to a weak state presence. In September 2021, an InSight Crime investigation shone a light on the full scale of wildlife trafficking and how it spreads far beyond the likes of González.

Birds, reptiles, amphibians, felines, and primates are all routinely snatched up by sophisticated criminal networks. From scientific experimentation to tourism, and pseudo-medical uses to religious ceremonies, Colombian wildlife is constantly looted. Whatever the intended purpose, the methods of criminals are often similar.

Members of local communities are contacted to track down and capture specific species, based on the client demand. The captured creatures are then killed, skinned or have their fangs and claws removed, depending on the intended use. Finally, dead or alive, the animals are transported out of the region, often being “laundered” through the use of legal documentation filled in with inaccurate data, InSight Crime found.