Thailand’s police have arrested an alleged animal-smuggling boss who they say ran an international network that trafficked elephant ivory, rhino horn and wildlife, threatening the existence of endangered Asian and African species.
A Thai of Vietnamese descent, Boonchai Bach, 40, was arrested in Nakhon Phanom on the Laos border in connection to the illegal trafficking of 14 African rhino horns to Thailand in December, according to the Freeland Foundation, an anti-trafficking NGO that has reportedly tracked Boonchai and his family for years.
Freeland spokesman Matthew Pritchett said: “I can’t think of anything in the past five years that has been this significant.”
AP reported that the case, which involved US$1 million worth of rhino horn, involved Thai airport officer Nikorn Wongprajan, who was arrested at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, a Chinese smuggler and a Vietnamese courier.
“This arrest is significant for many reasons. The confiscated items are high in value. And we are able to arrest the whole network involved, starting from the courier, the facilitator, the exporter,” Police Colonel Chutrakul Yodmadee said.
Boonchai denies the allegations. Under the wildlife law, he could face up to four years in prison but the authorities said they were also considering money-laundering and customs charges that carry up to 10 years in jail.
The Thai police said they had been investigating his family for years and customs officers found rhino horns hidden in cargo on a flight from Ethiopia in December. Several Vietnamese and Chinese passengers were on the flight, according to the Freeland Foundation. Nikorn, the Thai airport officer, was arrested and the police said he admitted working with a Chinese smuggler and a relative of Boonchai. The three are being held in a Thai prison.
“The arrest spells hope for wildlife. We hope Thailand, its neighbouring countries and counterparts in Africa will build on this arrest and tear Hydra completely apart,” Freeland founder Steven Galster said, in reference to a network of suppliers and buyers across Asia.
The alleged Laotian boss of the Xaysavang network, Vixay Keosavang, remains at large with a US bounty of US$1 million on his head.
“We have been looking at this syndicate for over a decade now,” said Onkuri Majumdar, Freeland programme officer. “They have tentacles all over Africa and Southeast Asia. They are responsible for the slaughter of thousands of endangered animals including rhinos and elephants. And let’s not forget rangers in Africa who have died, killed by poachers financed by men like Boonchai.”
Picture credit: MaxPixel