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Thai officials target alleged wildlife trade kingpin, seize 330 million baht worth of assets

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Photo via Facebook/Freeland

In what some consider a major breakthrough in the ongoing crackdown on the illegal endangered species trade, Thai authorities targeted a suspected wildlife trafficking kingpin, freezing his bank accounts and seizing millions worth of assets.

Thai officials say last Friday’s operation was aimed at the alleged kingpin of the illegal wildlife trade in Asia, Boonchai Bach, who is Vietnamese with a Thai citizenship. His family is said to be heavily involved in a major Asian crime syndicate called “Hydra.”

Thailand is said to be a major transit in the illegal wildlife trade with exotic and endangered animals trafficking in from Malaysia, Indonesia and Africa, and then sent out to China through Laos and Vietnam.

Boonchai was arrested back in 2018 for allegedly smuggling 14 rhino horns worth $1 million USD from Africa to Thailand. Boonchai had been acquitted, which was seen as a major setback for the wildlife trade crackdown.

After Boonchai’s acquittal, Thailand’s Anti-Money Laundering Office investigated the illegal wildlife trade for over a year, according to a press release by the Freeland Foundation. Officials then opened a new case against Boonchai.

Freeland says some registered zoos in Thailand have been a source of illegal wildlife trade, including the Mukda Tiger Park & Farm which faces the threat of permanent closure due to alleged smuggling of tiger cubs.

In an investigation aimed at Boonchai’s alleged operations, police raided several locations in Nakhon Phanom and Chaiyaphum last Friday. Thai authorities seized or froze more than 330 million baht worth of assets including a hotel as well as cash, Buddhist amulets, firearms and wild animals. Thai authorities say bank accounts linked to Boonchai have now been frozen. The Freedom Foundation says suspects have 90 days to explain how they accumulated the assets.

The recent crackdown is a breakthrough in the fight on illegal wildlife trade, the chair of the Freeland Foundation, Steve Galster, says adding that the raids and asset seizures likely hindered the operation.

“Too often, wildlife criminals continue operating with impunity in spite of law enforcement efforts, whether they get arrested or not. Penalties are too light, jail sentences too short – if they go to jail – and anyone who gets arrested just gets replaced.

… But what the AMLO has just done is completely different: they have grounded this syndicate’s operations by freezing and seizing their financial resources. That means they don’t have the time or money to order the killing of more wild animals. This approach needs to be copied and expanded to help wildlife populations recover.”

Freeland Congratulates AMLO for Stopping Wildlife Traffickers by Taking their Money

Posted by Freeland on Wednesday, March 17, 2021

 

SOURCES: Associated Press | Bangkok Post

 

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