PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech authorities seized 24 white rhino horns and charged 16 suspected members of an international ring smuggling the prized material to Asia, the customs department said on Tuesday.
The horns, believed in parts of Asia to heal illnesses including cancer and sold as an aphrodisiac, were worth $5 million, customs and police officials said.
Demand has risen especially in Vietnam in the past years, leading to a rise in poaching of rhinos and smuggling of horns from Africa.
Police and customs said the ring employed proxy hunters who used a practice under which hunters can get permission to legally shoot one rhino in South Africa and take the horn as a trophy, strictly for non-commercial purposes.
"They were paid by the gang to hunt rhinos in the South African Republic bring the rhino horns as hunters' trophies to the EU," customs officer Ales Hruby said.
The Czech authorities did not give the nationalities of the suspects.
The suspects face up to 8-years in prison if found guilty.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Jiri Skacel; Editing by Alison Williams)