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Malaysia drops the ball on wildlife trafficking, says group

Malaysia failed to effectively assemble a case against convicted wildlife smuggler Anson Wong, leading to his early release from prison, says an anti-wildlife trafficking group.

Wong was released yesterday after serving under a third of his his five-year prison term for wildlife trafficking. Wong was arrested in 2010 after a luggage malfunction led Malaysia Airlines security staff revealed he was illegally carrying 95 boa constrictors, two rhinoceros vipers and one matamata turtle on his flight from Penang to Jakarta.

In a statement released today, William Schaedla, the regional director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, blamed the Malaysian government for failing to fully take Wong’s case seriously.

“Yesterday’s result was the culmination of chronic failures in prosecution and investigation. While Anson Wong’s original conviction stands, the enhanced five year sentence was overturned. Why? Simply because those tasked with assembling a proper case failed to do so,” said Schaedla.

“Had the authorities availed themselves of readily available resources and opportunities, the outcome would have been vastly different and Malaysia’s commitment to ending wildlife crime would not be in question.”

The Lizard King, a book by Bryan Christy, details Wong’s trafficking activities.

Schaedla added that in the past year-and-a-half, no new charges of evidence was logged against Wong, despite “repeated assurances that further investigations were part of the prosecution’s strategy.” Wong’s laptop and mobile phones were confiscated at the time of his arrest but TRAFFIC says there is “no indication” that Wong’s business contacts or associations were investigated, despite a prior conviction in the United States for animal trafficking (for which he was sentenced to 71 months in prison).

“It beggars belief that no effort was made to introduce these prior infractions in the context of the present
case. The charges also never recognised that Wong flouted International Air Travel Association (IATA)
regulations and did not cover the welfare of the smuggled animals – the latter being a fact pointed out by
the court itself,” said Schaedla.

“The monumental effort spent pushing for better laws and greater enforcement will come to naught if this
is how wildlife cases are treated. Traffickers will simply work small fines and short jail stays into their
calculations as a cost of business. Frontline authorities who put their lives at risk catching these criminals
will be defeated in their efforts. The weaknesses exhibited in this case will have long term impacts on the
fight against wildlife crime.”

“The government often complains that Malaysia is portrayed as an illegal wildlife trade hub. If this is the
way it handles one of the most high profile and straightforward wildlife crime cases ever to fall in its lap, it
has only itself to blame.”

TRAFFIC said authorities could still revoke Wong’s licenses if Malaysia wants to show it is serious about combatting the wildlife trade.

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