Woman Staying in Los Angeles Accused in Bear Bile Importation

Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2009

A South Korean woman staying in Los Angeles was charged by federal authorities Friday with illegally importing more than two pounds of bear bile, used for medicinal purposes and as an aphrodisiac in some Asian communities.

Seongja Hyun, 36, was arrested Thursday night by agents investigating a package of green crystallized bear bile from China. Because bears are protected under an international treaty and the Endangered Species Act, bear products can be imported only with government-issued export or import permits.

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Bear bile, typically extracted from a living bear through a tube surgically inserted into the animal’s gallbladder, is considered a treatment for conjunctivitis, jaundice and hemorrhoids, authorities said.

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Authorities estimated that the bile could be sold for more than $400,000. Hyun told authorities that she had planned to sell the bile in the package for $3,000 or $4,000, according to the affidavit.

Agents obtained a warrant to search the Koreatown apartment where Hyun was staying and found additional bear bile, more than 100 empty vials, a measuring scale with dark- colored residue, and a diary written in Korean with dates and prices.

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Hyun told authorities she did not know it was illegal to import bear bile in the U.S. because it is common in China, according to the affidavit. She said she entered the U.S. last month and brought bear bile in her checked baggage. Illegal smuggling carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years.

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