Wong’s five year sentence was a significant one for a wildlife trafficker anywhere in the world, and unprecedented in Malaysia. The Appeals Court today ruled that the 5 year sentence did not fit the crime of boa constrictor smuggling, a defensible conclusion in the limited circumstances of this case.
Ironically, the failure of Malaysia’s Wildlife Department ever to arrest Wong worked to his advantage: “It is trite law that Wong’s plea of guilt is a mitigating factor. It is trite law that the fact Wong was the first offender is another mitigating factor,” the judge said.
Agents and prosecutors in US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Operation Chameleon would argue that Wong was hardly a “first offender.” Instead, as Wong confessed in a US Court room, he smuggled critically endangered wildlife for decades.
What did occur for the first time was that Wong was brought to justice in his own country. This is a major advance. It is the result of good work by Malaysian citizens, national media, NGOs, legislators, prosecutors, and judges. Every element of Malaysian society except Malaysia’s Wildlife Department worked hard for justice in this case. The future is yet to reveal itself…