Published 13 March 2019

Malaysia jails two Vietnamese nationals for illegal possession of tigers, leopards, and bears

Update (8th May 2019): 

Tran Van Sang was issued with fines amounting to MYR850,000 (USD204,718) which was not given out by the Kuala Kangar Sessions Court at the time of his conviction in March. The fines were handed down by the Taiping High Court on 25th April, following a judicial review of the case. 

Tran received a MYR150,000 (USD 36,126) fine for each of three illegal tiger-part posession charges under Section 68(2)(c) of Malaysia's Wildlife Conservation Act 2010. 

He also received a MYR100,000 (USD 24, 084) fine on each of four charges for illegal posession of clouded leopard and leopard parts under the same section of the law. Tran will have to serve an additional 17 months in prison if he fails to pay the fines. This is possibly the highest total fines issued to any offender under the law since it came into force. 

Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 13th March 2019 – two Vietnamese nationals have been jailed and fined for illegal possession of several parts of threatened wildlife, including tiger, leopard, and Sun Bear parts, in two separate court cases in Malaysia this week.

Today, the Kuala Kangsar Sessions Court sentenced Tran Van Sang to a total of 19 years in prison on 10 charges under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, with Judge Rohaida Binti Ishak ordering these to run concurrently from the date of his arrest. The longest sentence for an individual charge was 30 months.

Tran was caught on the 26th August 2017 near an indigenous people’s settlement in the town of Sungai Siput in northern Peninsular Malaysia in possession of 273 wildlife parts. The parts included those of tiger Panthera tigris, leopard Panthera pardus, Clouded Leopard Neofelis nebulosa, Sun Bear Helarctos malayanus and Sambar Deer Cervus unicolor. All except the Sambar deer are classified as Totally Protected Species under national legislation.

Seven of the 10 charges Tran faced were under Section 68(2)(c) of the Act which states that a person convicted under the section is liable for both fines and prison terms. The section carries a minimum fine of MYR100,000 (USD25,000) and maximum of MYR500,000 (USD125,000) as well as a jail term of up to five years.

While the court issued the jail terms, it did not issue minimum fines—a decision which is being appealed by the prosecution.

The Department of Wildlife and National Parks, represented by Deputy Public Prosecutor Nur Ainaa Ridzwan, argued that a deterrent sentence was necessary given the sheer number of threatened species and parts involved.

She specifically mentioned the dwindling population of the Critically Endangered Malayan Tiger and the importance of preserving a species seen as a national symbol. Malaysia currently has less than 200 wild tigers.

Nur Ainaa urged the court to issue a deterrent sentence as a warning to others that wildlife crime has serious consequences.

In a separate case in Pahang on Monday, the Raub Sessions court sentenced a 40-year-old Vietnamese sawmill worker to 6 years in jail and MYR400,000 (USD100,000) in fines for illegal possession of tiger and other wildlife parts.

Ho Van Kien faced six charges for possession of one full tiger skin, a partial tiger skin, one leopard claw, a Sun Bear claw as well as 150 g of tiger meat and 21.15 kg of Wild Pig Sus scrofa meat under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 stemming from an arrest 4th of July 2018.

He was arrested in a workers’ quarters in a sawmill in an industrial area in Kuala Lipis in the state of Pahang, along with five other Vietnamese nationals: Tran Van Trung, Tran Xuan Hiep, Dao Duy Chien, Ho Anh Nguyet, and Nguyen Thi Lan Chi.

Ho was sentenced to a year in prison, alongside a fine of MYR100,000 (USD25,000) for each of the four charges of illegal possession of a totally protected species – specifically the tiger skins, meat and leopard claw. He will also have to serve a year in prison for each set of fines he fails to pay.

While the jail terms meted or amounted to a total of six years, Raub Sessions Court Judge Mazelan Jamaluddin ordered them all to be served concurrently from the date of arrest.

Ho had initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, as did five other Vietnamese nationals caught in the Perhilitan raid on 4 July, but later changed his plea to guilty.

The court then proceeded to sentence Ho while Perhilitan moved to drop the charges against the other five accused. The court granted the five a discharge not amounting to acquittal.

At least 15 Vietnamese nationals have been arrested in Peninsular Malaysia for tiger related crimes from 2016-2018.