A senior member of an international wildlife trafficking ring was arrested today in Bangkok, after a year of investigations by Royal Thai Police Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Division (NRECD), Royal Thai Customs, Anti-Money Laundering Organization (AMLO), and the ASEAN-Wildlife Enforcement Network (WEN). Regional wildlife trafficking analysis support was provided by Freeland as part of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-sponsored Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST) Program.
The suspect, of Thai origin, was apprehended at his Bangkok area residence early this afternoon after police obtained a warrant for his arrest. The suspect also has a history of drug and weapons related violations. His arrest follows another arrest three days ago on February 29 at Suvarnabhumi Airport of an Indian national, who was found by Thai Customs to have checked in a suitcase concealing numerous tortoises. Traveling from Kolkata, the Indian smuggler was due to transfer in Bangkok and fly onwards to Phuket, Thailand. Thai Customs took note of the passenger and his luggage, since Kolkata is a known trafficking hotspot for the illegal tortoise trade, and also because of a suspicious, last-minute change of travel plans.
Working on intelligence gathered with ASEAN-WEN, NRECD believes this suspect to be a part of a regional wildlife trafficking ring, which has been illegally transporting large volumes of turtles and tortoises from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to Vietnam, Laos, Hong Kong, China, and other spots. The latest incident pertaining to this specific network was in April 2015, when 11 bags from Dhaka, Bangladesh where left on the conveyor belt at Suvarnabhumi Airport containing over a thousand tortoises. This case led to the arrest of one of the airport’s ex-luggage handlers who was due to collect the bags.
Links from the February 29th arrest led NRECD police to the senior Thai member of this tortoise trafficking ring. Though NRECD have known of the Thai suspect for an extended period, they have been unable to make an arrest due to a lack of hard evidence – until now. Through cooperation with the airline, police were able to confirm that today’s suspect was linked to the February 29 arrest and other smuggling attempts. This confirmation led to an arrest warrant this morning and the successful apprehension of the suspect hours later this afternoon.
For the last decade, Thai authorities have seized numerous shipments of highly prized tortoises and turtles coming from South Asia, with occasional arrests of smuggling “mules”. Some of the species are sold as high priced pets (falsely labeled as “captive bred”), while others are sold for their meat and shells in Asian restaurants and medicine markets. Noticing trends in shipment patterns, Freeland offered analytical support to Thai and Indian authorities on what appeared to be a huge illicit supply chain of these wildlife species between South and Southeast Asia. Freeland provided financial and analytical support to ASEAN-WEN, which in turn brought Thai and Indian authorities together to analyze information on regional turtle and tortoise smuggling and to discuss cooperation so that authorities could follow the supply chain and break it.
“ASEAN-WEN helped us with information on how this trade operated across the region,” said lead NRECD Investigator, Pol. Maj. Anodhorn Srithongbai. “We’ve been consulting Freeland about this supply chain since late 2014,” he added. “Their technical support was vital.” The Commander of NRECD, Division II, Pol. Col. Somchok Taphol, added that “Anodhorn followed the suspect for 300 kilometers in the last 24 hours and is to be congratulated for securing today’s warrant and arrest.”
“Turtles and tortoises are being smuggled in from South Asia in staggering numbers”, said Onkuri Majumdar, Director of Freeland India. “We congratulate the Thai authorities for this careful investigation and the arrest of one of the brains of the syndicate; it will have greater crime suppression results than simply picking up the courier.”
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The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the lead U.S. Government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient societies to realize their potential. Following 50 years of improving lives through development and humanitarian assistance, USAID is the principal U.S. Government development agency partnering with countries throughout the world to promote peace, prosperity and security. Please visit www.usaid.gov/asia-regional or follow www.facebook.com/USAIDAsia and @USAIDAsia on Twitter for more information.
Freeland is a frontline counter-trafficking organization working for a world that is free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery. Our team of law enforcement, development and communications specialists work alongside partners in Asia, Africa and the Americas to build capacity, raise awareness, strengthen networks and promote good governance to protect critical ecosystems and vulnerable people. Freeland is also the lead implementing partner of “ARREST” (Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking), the U.S. Government’s largest counter-wildlife trafficking program, which is sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). For more info, visit www.freeland.org also; follow Freeland on twitter @FREELANDpeople or facebook.com/freelandfoundation