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Wildlife Trade Specialists

File photo of sacks of pangolin scales seized in Malaysia © TRAFFIC

File photo of sacks of pangolin scales seized in Malaysia © TRAFFIC

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Published 28th September 2018

Businessman charged in connection with Malaysia’s biggest pangolin scale seizure

Sabah, Malaysia, 28th September 2018—A local businessman faces up to MYR2 billion (USD242 million) in penalties if convicted of charges stemming from Malaysia’s largest seizure of pangolin scales.


The case is a milestone—Malaysia’s first prosecution in connection with a large-scale pangolin seizure, although authorities here have stopped numerous illegal pangolin scale shipments in recent years. 

Between May and November 2017 alone, the Royal Malaysian Customs seized just over 15 tonnes of pangolin scales in nine seizures in the country. The largest of these seizures were made in Sabah and Sarawak, putting the role of ports and airports in the two East Malaysian states under the spotlight. 

The case related to this prosecution involves a seizure in July 2017 and is significant as it is the first trial linked to Malaysia’s transit role in the global illicit pangolin trade. 

Also new is the fact that the case is being tried as a violation of Customs law rather than as a wildlife crime. Malaysia’s Customs Act 1967 carries hefty financial penalties that are determined in part by the value of smuggled goods.

The accused has been charged for an offence of import or export of a prohibited good under Section 135 (1) (a) of Malaysia’s Customs Act 1967. 

He was charged in the Kota Kinabalu Magistrate’s Court earlier this week and is accused in connection with a shipment of 227 sacks of pangolin scales weighing over eight tonnes via the Sepanggar Port in July last year. The consignment of scales was valued by Customs at over MYR100 million (USD24 million).

If convicted the accused could be liable to a fine of at least MYR 50,000 and up to 20 times the value of the goods, or up to three years jail, or to both.

He has claimed trial and bail has been set at MYR250,000 (USD60,466). The accused is also required by the Court to report to the Royal Malaysian Customs Department office in Kota Kinabalu every fortnight. 

Pangolins are one of the most heavily trafficked mammals worldwide, with the African pangolins being targeted heavily since 2000 as Asian species dwindle in the wild from poaching pressure.

A recent analysis of seizures by TRAFFIC and the University of Adelaide found an average of 20 tonnes of pangolins and their parts had been trafficked internationally every year from 2010 to 2015. At least 55 tonnes of scales were trafficked during that period.