Cambodian Forestry Official Arrested in US Over Alleged Monkey-Smuggling Scheme – The Diplomat

Yesterday, US federal prosecutors charged eight people, including two Cambodian government officials, with an international monkey-smuggling operation that saw hundreds of macaques poached from the wild in Southeast Asia and shipped to the United States.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida said in a statement that Masfal Khree, 46, the deputy director of wildlife and biodiversity for the Cambodian Forest Service, was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Wednesday.

This led to the indictment of a wild monkey smuggling ring that included eight suspects. Among them were Omalisse Keo, 58, director of Cambodia’s forestry department, and six members of a “major primate conservation organization” based in Hong Kong and Cambodia. The six are also from Hong Kong, James Man Sang Lau, 64; Dixon Lau, 29, from Hong Kong; Sunny Chan, from Hong Kong; Raphael Cheung Man, 71, Cambodia; Sarah Yeung, Cambodia; and Hing Ip Chung, 61, from Cambodia.

The eight men were each charged with one count of conspiracy and seven counts of trafficking. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge and up to 20 years on each of the smuggling charges.

The conspirators are believed to have jointly captured wild long-tailed macaques in Cambodia’s national parks and protected areas and smuggled them through the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and the local office of the Convention on International Trade. Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the main convention on wildlife conservation. Monkeys equipped with fake CITES documents were exported to the US, falsely labeled as captive-bred. “3,000 ‘unofficial’ monkeys were allowed to collect, for which MAFF officials received cash payments,” the statement said.

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“Wild populations of long-tailed macaques, as well as the health and well-being of the American public, are threatened when these animals are removed from their natural habitats and trafficked illegally in the United States and elsewhere,” said Edward Grace, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bureau of Enforcement.

Vanny Resources Holdings, a Hong Kong-based company that breeds monkeys for research, played a key role in the scheme, the US statement said. The firm, led by James and Dixon Lau, “colluded with black market collectors and corrupt officials in Cambodia” to buy macaques and export them to the US and elsewhere. Specifically, the indictment alleges that between December 2017 and September of this year, Masfal Cree sometimes personally helped bring captured wild macaques to Vanny Resources Holdings.

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The indictment shows the appalling, brazen use of Cambodia’s conservation institutions to facilitate the smuggling of endangered species, but the regret is hardly surprising given the forestry department’s track record.

The administration is to implement the new Forestry Act created under the MAFF in 2003, which the government passed a year ago after a decade of pressure from foreign donor governments to combat illegal logging in Cambodia.

Shortly after its founding in 2007, London-based Global Witness published a report alleging that then-FA director Ty Sohoon and Agriculture Minister Chan Saroon had “illegally sold off” nearly 500 jobs under the new administration. After paying $30,000 for the job, successful applicants were required to pay half of their earnings to their bosses, the report said.

Ironically, the only way to recoup such costs was by exploiting the very resources these officials were sworn to protect. Indeed, a report by Global Witness suggests that this is precisely the intention. The report, which was surprisingly banned in Cambodia upon publication, accused both MAFF and FA of Seng Keang Import Export Co. People close to Prime Minister Hun Sen, including his first cousin Di Choch, are related.

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In 2010, in response to bad publicity about deforestation, Hun Sen sacked Ty Sohun as FA chief and transferred him to another position at MAFF. But he was never punished for aiding illegal logging.

The operations detailed in the Global Witness report are typical of how power operates in contemporary Cambodia, where chains of private patron-client relationships bypass or bypass existing state institutions and connect the halls of power with the grassroots. In this fluid arrangement, money flows upward and protection extends downward, so low-level criminals are never brought to justice in Cambodia.

All of this makes it highly unlikely that Masphal Kry and Omaliss Keo ran the monkey smuggling operation independently and without the knowledge of their superiors within MAFF. Profits from the operation did not flow through the chain over time. Without further evidence, it is impossible to say how far the patron-client “tree” of liability extends, but whatever the truth, it is unlikely that there would be any significant liability on the part of the Cambodian government after this smuggling operation. come to light.


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