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U.S. extradites Colombian designer accused of illegal wildlife trade

The purported items sent to the United States were crafted from leather and animal skins such as whales, snakes, and alligators.

Colombian designer extradited to U.S. for alleged illegal wildlife trade
Colombian designer extradited to U.S. for alleged illegal wildlife trade | EFE & Shutterstock (bag for illustration purposes only)

August 31, 2023 9:14am

Updated: August 31, 2023 9:33am

A leading Colombian fashion designer, Nancy González, was extradited from Colombia to the U.S. on allegations of illegally sending products made from endangered animal skins, the Colombian National Police said in a statement on Wednesday. 

González is accused of smuggling leather items crafted from exotic and endangered animal skins, many of which were purportedly sold in upscale stores across the U.S. and even showcased at New York Fashion Week.

Charges filed in the Southern District of Florida in the U.S. could potentially result in a maximum prison term of 25 years and a fine of $500,000.

"The extradition of Nancy Teresa González de Barberi and her alleged partner Diego Mauricio Rodríguez Giraldo was carried out to the United States for crimes related to conspiracy and wildlife smuggling," reported the Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Interpol (Dijin).

Diego Rodríguez, identified by the police as González's associate, was also extradited in the same process. Both have been charged in Florida with conspiracy to import and traffic wildlife against the law and for smuggling goods, as stated in the press release.

Prior to the extradition, Jaime Lombana, González's lawyer, had told CNN that his client was willing to accept the charges and would comply with the Supreme Court's extradition approval because she trusts in having procedural guarantees in the United States and better incarceration conditions.

González was apprehended in July 2022 by investigators from the Prosecutor's Office, in conjunction with the Police, in the city of Cali, western Colombia.

The purported items sent to the United States – including handbags, wallets, and belts – were crafted from leather and animal skins such as whales, snakes, and alligators.

These products were later sold in prestigious luxury stores across the United States.

The Colombian Supreme Court of Justice endorsed the designer's extradition in February of this year.

Back in 2019, a pair of investigators collaborating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service disclosed to The Associated Press that around 12 individuals, each carrying four handbags, boarded a single flight to the United States.

The airfare for this journey was covered by Gonzalez through round-trip tickets. The identities of these investigators were kept confidential to safeguard their ongoing investigation.

Although the trade of certain crocodile skins is permissible, it requires a certificate, which can be both expensive and challenging to acquire.

González is well-regarded in the world of fashion design in Colombia and the United States, standing out as one of the industry's most prominent figures. Her arrest in 2022 took both her colleagues and the public by surprise.

Salma Hayek, Britney Spears, and Victoria Beckham are said to have acquired her meticulously crafted handbags, according to the Economist. It remains unclear if any of these purchases were connected to the bags suspected of being brought in illegally.

González's creations were showcased in a 2008 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.