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Man 'hollowed out false leg to smuggle iguanas'

By Stephen Foley in New York

A California man has been accused of hollowing out a secret compartment inside his prosthetic leg and using it to smuggle three endangered iguanas into the United States from Fiji.

Jereme James, a 33-year-old from Los Angeles, has been charged with one count of smuggling, as he allegedly attempted to establish an illicit business breeding the rare species of banded iguanas.

The bright green lizards are among the rarest and most geographically isolated iguanas in the world. In the US, Mr James allegedly boasted he had been able to sell the lizards for more than $10,000 (£5,000) each.

According to an indictment filed in a federal court in Los Angeles, Mr James made his confession to an undercover policeman, who had been following up a tip-off to the US Fish and Wildlife Service from someone who had allegedly seen several of the lizards at Mr James' home.

The species is protected under Fijian law and under an international treaty prohibiting trade in endangered animals. They are on the World Conservation Union's "red list" of endangered species as their habitat is destroyed, predators such as cats and mongooses have been introduced to their native Fiji and Tonga and indigenous animals are stolen for the pet trade.

Mr James is not yet believed to have engaged a lawyer or entered a plea, and is not scheduled to appear in court until next month. He is alleged to have brought three iguanas into the US hidden in the leg after a trip to a nature reserve in Fiji in 2002.

As well as the three animals – which prosecutors said Mr James admitted selling for $32,000 four years ago – Fish and Wildlife Service agents seized four of the lizards at his home when executing a search warrant in April, according to the indictment. Those four will be handed to a breeding program in the US, the service said.

The authorities suspect Mr James had set up a business breeding the iguanas, according to assistant US attorney Joseph Johns.

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