Tiger Trafficking Ring Shaken by Thai Police Sting
Investigators Follow the Money and Nab High Level Target
BANGKOK (May 22, 2011) – Thailand's environmental police announced today that they have identified and arrested a man who was providing protection and financial channels for what may be the country's largest tiger trafficking ring.
The Royal Thai Police Nature Crime Division announced today that 49-year-old Sudjai Chanthawong, a Thai male, was tracked down and arrested by the division's undercover unit yesterday in the city of Udon Thani before being taken for questioning in Chaiyaphum, where police hoped to find more links to ongoing wildlife trafficking operations through Thailand's northeast provinces. Mr. Chanthawong was moved to Bangkok today where the Nature Crime Police are questioning him further. They also brought to the Nature Crime Police station the live tiger that Chanthawong helped sell.
Mr. Chanthawong was arrested after police confirmed that it was his bank account used by a trafficking ring to accept payment from undercover police for the sale of a live tiger last year. That transaction led to the arrest last May of two other Thai men in Chaiyaphum. Police at that time were targeting a gang thought to be responsible for moving up to 1,000 tigers and leopards across the border into Laos and Vietnam in the past decade.
"Thai Police are to congratulated for following the money and finding one of the kingpins involved in cross border wildlife trafficking,” said Steve Galster, Director of FREELAND Foundation, which supported the operation. "FREELAND and Thai Police stand together in sending a signal to the traffickers that Thailand is becoming a much more difficult place to do their business."
The complicated but successful one year undercover operation is the subject of a National Geographic TV documentary premiering across Asia this Tuesday night as part of a 4-part prime-time series called "Crimes Against Nature". The show features covert transactions and several arrests that led to yesterday’s take down.
FREELAND is campaigning for the Thai Government to pass a stronger law against wildlife traffickers and to increase budget allocations for Thai Nature Crime Police so they can work more efficiently to curb some of the world's largest trafficking operations. FREELAND's training support is sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is providing financial and technical assistance to wildlife crime task forces throughout Asia. Save the Tiger Fund provided critical assistance for the year-long operation.