Published 6 September 2010

International wildlife trafficker sentenced to 6 months in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 6th September 2010—A Malaysian court today sentenced international wildlife trafficker Anson Wong Keng Liang to six months in jail and fined him RM190,000 (approximately USD 60,000) for attempting to export 95 Boa Constrictors without a permit.

Wong was arrested on the night of 26th August at Kuala Lumpur International Airport after Malaysia Airlines security staff noticed his broken bag on a conveyor belt and discovered 95 Boa Constrictors, two Rhinoceros Vipers and a Mata-Mata Turtle packed inside.

This is only the second case to be tried under the newly implemented International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008. The first concerned two Malagasy women caught trying to smuggle hundreds of rare tortoises into the country in July. The pair was sentenced to a longer jail term—a year each.

“This disappointing sentence clearly tells wildlife traffickers that they have little to fear from the law,” said TRAFFIC Southeast Asia Regional Director Dr William Schaedla.

“Malaysia has lost the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that is both willing and able to get tough with wildlife criminals; that it is not willing to tolerate being used as a hub for the illegal wildlife trade.

“We hope the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment will appeal for a tougher penalty in this case,” he added.

The court was told that Wong had imported the snakes into Malaysia legally but failed to apply for a permit to re-export them to Indonesia.

When questioned by Sessions Court Judge Zulhelmy Hasan, Wong explained that his customer had pushed him to deliver the snakes before Hari Raya, which will be celebrated by Muslims around the world at the end of this week.

Wong said that in his haste to keep the customer happy, he did not apply for the permit.

Apart from the fine and jail terms meted out, the Court also ordered that three mobile phones and a laptop Wong was carrying at the time of arrest remain in the custody of the Wildlife and National Parks Department.

Senior legal adviser for the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, Faridz Gohim Abdullah told the Court that the laptop contained information about alleged related illegal activities and that the phone carried the names of suspected smugglers.

Schaedla urged the authorities to investigate the contents of the phone and laptop and to continue to look into how Wong was able to bypass security checks at the Penang Airport last month.

Wong was in transit in Kuala Lumpur on his journey from his home-base in Penang, to Jakarta when the incident took place.

He was charged on 1st September for exporting snakes without a permit, an offence under Section 10 (a) of the International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008, which carries a maximum fine of RM100,000 per animal up to an aggregate of RM 1 million, or up to seven years jail, or both upon conviction.

Wong first came to public attention in 2000 when he pleaded guilty to having trafficked a menagerie of endangered species into the US, and was sentenced to 71 months’ jail and fined USD60,000.

Interest in Wong was renewed in 2008 after the publication of the reptile smuggling thriller The Lizard King by Bryan Christy which detailed Wong’s illegal dealings which eventually landed him behind bars in the US.

In his one and only interview since the book’s publication, Wong told The Star newspaper that he has continued to trade in wildlife since his return from the US, but insisted that all his business dealings were above board.

However, the wildlife trader was once again in the spotlight in February this year when news reports linked two of Wong’s companies to US Global Exotics, whose warehouse was raided by US authorities. The news of his recent arrest made headlines around the globe.