Malaysians Express Outrage at Being Smuggling Hub

Hundreds of news stories are appearing around the world on the jailing of wildlife tycoon Anson Wong, perhaps the first time an organized crime kingpin of endangered wildlife has been so widely identified.  Here is an opinion from Malaysia:   

Wildlife crooks deserve no mercy

ALONG THE WATCHTOWER By M.VEERA PANDIYAN (The Star, 9 Sept. 2010)
veera@thestar.com.my

We have to get tough with wildlife smugglers as the world is watching how serious we are about tackling the scourge.

FOR years, fingers have been pointed at Malaysia for being a wildlife smuggling centre. There have been allegations of corruption and collusion between rich rogues in the business and officials of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) and Customs.

Finally, a man who has almost single-handedly tainted the country as a global hub for the illegal wildlife trade has been caught red-handed.

A bag containing 95 boa constrictors, two rhinoceros vipers and a matamata turtle burst on the conveyor belt at KLIA where Wong Keng Liang, 52, better known as Anson Wong, was on transit to Jakarta from Penang.

The mind boggles at the blatant bid to commit the dastardly crime. Is it that easy to board a flight at Penang airport with a bag full of boas wrapped in sarongs? Now, the six months’ jail sentence for the world’s most wanted smuggler of endangered species smacks more of a sick joke than justice.

That’s all that he got in addition to being fined RM190,000 on Monday after pleading guilty to illegally exporting the reptiles.

Under the International Trade of Endangered Species Act 2008, he could have been slapped with RM100,000 for each of the poor creatures, or up to a maximum of RM1mil, or seven years’ jail, or both.

The man dubbed the “Pablo Escobar of the wildlife trade” was first arrested in Mexico in 1998 under an elaborate sting operation conducted by an elite undercover unit of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

(Pablo Escobar, a Colombian drug lord, once controlled 80% of the cocaine illegally shipped into the United States via his Medellin cartel. On Dec 2, 1993, he was gunned down on the rooftop of the house he was hiding in while attempting to escape arrest.)

A US court sentenced Anson to six years’ jail and fined him US$60,000 (RM187,230) and the judge who sentenced him also barred him from selling animals to anyone in the US for three years.

But according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), two companies run by his family members – CBS Wildlife and Sungai Rusa Wildlife – defied the ruling and continued to ship wildlife to the US and elsewhere while Anson was in prison.

How did he manage to do it? The Lizard King: True Crimes and Passions of the World’s Greatest Reptile Smugglers, provides some shocking revelations.

The bestseller written by an ex-mortician’s assistant-cum-lawyer-turned-writer Bryan Christy highlights the absurdly close relationships Anson had with a senior Customs official in Penang and a top Perhilitan officer.

After the book was published last year, several non-governmental organisations lodged a police report against Anson, Perhilitan and the Customs over his ability to renew his special permits to keep wildlife, despite being a convicted endangered species smuggler.

A report was also lodged with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Com­mission on the possibility of corruption involving Perhilitan, with supporting documents dated between 1998 and 2003 showing correspondence the then Penang Perhilitan head had with the head office in Kuala Lumpur.

As if the book had not done enough damage, in January the National Geographic magazine carried a highly damning exposé of the world’s most notorious wildlife dealer.

Written by the then already world-renowned Christy, the article further reinforced Malaysia’s ignominy as an illegal wildlife trading haven.

It also gave insights into Anson’s reputedly powerful connections in the country including one senior officer referred to as “kecik kecik cili padi” (the smallest chillies are the hottest).

Christy wrote that Anson had boasted to George Morrison – head of the elite unit that nabbed him in Mexico on Sept 14, 1998 – that he had nothing to fear from the Customs Department or Perhilitan.

Referring to Morrison’s planted “mule”, Anson even reportedly bragged: “I had the second man of the Customs bring him out of the airport and drive him to my office.”

Anson also gloated that his company was doing between US$50mil (RM156 mil) and US$100mil (RM312mil) in annual sales.

The figures mentioned are certainly not questionable or shocking.

It has been estimated that wildlife criminals rake in between US$10bil (RM47.9bil) and US$20bil (RM95.8bil) annually around the world, a sum equivalent to 5% of the illegal international drug trade.

In the light of what has been revealed, the sentence against Anson is indeed “a tragedy”, as aptly described by Traffic South-East Asia regional director Dr William Schaedla.

The verdict, he says, reflects unwillingness or inability to get tough with heinous wildlife criminals and failure to see justice served.

The Attorney-General’s Chambers has done the right thing by quickly filing an appeal against the incredibly light sentence.

Malaysia has no other choice but to get tough with wildlife smugglers. The whole world is watching how serious we are about tackling the scourge.

Our courts must send the correct message to these rogues that no mercy would be shown to them.

And if corruption were the main reason Malaysia remains one of the world’s largest hubs for trafficking in endangered species, heads must roll.

> Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, commonly known as Horace: He who is greedy is always in want.

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© 1995-2010 Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)

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