Cambodian Forestry Official Arrested in US Over Alleged Monkey-Smuggling Scheme – The Diplomat

News broke yesterday that U.S. federal prosecutors charged eight people, including two Cambodian government officials, with an international monkey smuggling operation that poached hundreds of endangered macaques from the wild in Southeast Asia and shipped them to the United States.

Masphal Kry, 46, deputy director for wildlife and biodiversity at the Cambodian Forest Service, was arrested Wednesday at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida said in a statement.

That led to the unseal of an indictment against an alleged wild monkey smuggling ring involving eight suspects. They include Omaliss Keo, 58, director of the Cambodian Forest Service, and six members of a “major primate supply organization” based in Hong Kong and Cambodia. The six are James Man Sang Lau, 64, from Hong Kong; Liu Dickson, 29, from Hong Kong; Sunny Chan from Hong Kong; Raphael Cheung Man, 71, from Cambodia; Sarah Yeung from Cambodia; Hing Ip Chung, 61.

The eight were each charged with one count of conspiracy and seven counts of smuggling. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison on the conspiracy count and up to 20 years on each count of smuggling.

Together, the alleged conspirators captured wild long-tailed macaques in national parks and reserves in Cambodia and cleaned them through the local offices of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), A major wildlife conservation treaty. Equipped with falsified CITES documents, the monkeys were then exported to the United States and falsely labeled as captive-bred. “To allow for a collection quota of 3,000 ‘unofficial’ monkeys, MAFF officials received cash payments,” the statement said.

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“When these animals are removed from their natural habitat and sold illegally in the United States and elsewhere, wild long-tailed macaque populations, as well as the health and well-being of the American public, are at risk,” Edward Grace, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Enforcement the bureau chief said in a statement.

The U.S. statement said Vanny Resources Holdings, a Hong Kong-based company that breeds monkeys for research, played a key role in the scheme. Led by James and Dickson Lau, the company “conspired with black market collectors and corrupt officials in Cambodia” to acquire macaques and export them to the United States and other destinations. In particular, the indictment alleges that between December 2017 and September of this year, Masphal Kry helped bring captive wild macaques to Vanny Resources Holdings, and sometimes brought them himself to Vanny Resources Holdings.

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The indictment reveals Cambodia’s shocking and brazen use of conservation agencies to facilitate the trafficking of endangered species, which is sadly not surprising given the Forestry Service’s record.

The government was formed under MAFF in 2003 to enforce a new forestry law that the government narrowly passed the previous year, following a decade of pressure from foreign donor governments to crack down on illegal logging.

In 2007, London-based watchdog Global Witness published a report saying that shortly after its formation, the FA’s then chairman, Thai Sukorn, and agriculture minister Sharon Tan “illegally sold” some 500 million dollars to the new government. jobs. After paying up to $30,000 to secure a job, successful candidates are required to pay half of their earnings to their superiors, the report said.

Unsurprisingly, the only way to recoup those costs is to develop the resources these officials have sworn to protect. In fact, the Global Witness report suggests that this is exactly what was intended. Not surprisingly, the report was banned in Cambodia when it was released, detailing the roles MAFF and FA played in the operations of Seng Keang Import Export Co. Ltd., which regulators described at the time as Cambodia’s “strongest Big logging syndicates” have ties to figures close to Prime Minister Hun Sen, including his cousin Dy Chouch.

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In 2010, Hun Sen fired Ty Sokhun’s head of FA and transferred him to another position at MAFF due to negative publicity over logging. But he was never punished in any way for helping facilitate illegal logging.

The actions detailed in the Global Witness report are characteristic of the way power operates in contemporary Cambodia, where chains of individual patronage ties link the grassroots to the halls of power, bypassing or overriding existing state institutions. In this fluid arrangement, money passes upwards and protections extend downwards, which is why low-level criminals almost never face accountability in Cambodia.

All of this makes it very unlikely that Masphal Kry and Omaliss Keo were conducting monkey smuggling in isolation without the knowledge of MAFF’s superiors. It’s also unlikely that profits from the business haven’t been passed up in the historic fashion. In the absence of further evidence, it is impossible to determine how far the responsibility extends to protect the customer “tree”, but whatever the facts, it is unlikely that the Cambodian government will take any meaningful responsibility now that this smuggling operation has come to light.

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