A Vietnamese man remains at large after being identified as the owner of a company intended to receive a shipment of more than a ton of African elephant ivory and a variety of other animal parts hidden in hollowed-out timber, according to a wildlife NGO involved in the investigation.
In a separate case, Kenyan officials said another shipment camouflaging nearly twice the amount of ivory in the same manner was intercepted before its arrival in Cambodia, according to Reuters.
Workers at the Royal Railways Phnom Penh dry port pry open a log containing large quantities of illegal animal parts last week, in a photograph posted to the Facebook page of the Finance Ministry’s general department of customs and excise.The whereabouts of Nguyen Tien Chuong, the 31-year-old owner of Cam Transit Import, are unknown, according to a statement released on Wednesday by NGO Wildlife Alliance, which said his firm was the intended recipient of the illicit haul seized in Phnom Penh last week.
“The suspect is still at large,” the statement said, adding that Mr. Tien Chuong specialized in “illegal wildlife trafficking between Africa and China.”
The stockpile was discovered concealed in wax and hidden in large blocks of African Beng wood after a tipoff from the U.S. to customs officials at the dry port run by Royal Railways.
It was one of the largest seizures of illicit animal parts ever recorded in Cambodia, according to government officials, containing 137.6 kg of pangolin scales, 10 cheetah skulls, 82.3 kg of cheetah bones and nearly 5 kg of the wiry hair found at the end of elephant tails, in addition to the ivory. (Officials previously said the skulls and bones were from tigers.)
“This is the second case where illegal wildlife shipped by CAM TRANSIT IMPORT CO., LTD. has been intercepted this year,” the Wildlife Alliance statement said. In late October, it added, a haul of 1,000 kg of ivory was found by Ho Chi Minh City customs officials before arriving in Cambodia.
Suwanna Gauntlett, CEO of Wildlife Alliance Cambodia, said she did not know whether Cambodian officials were actively searching for Mr. Tien Chuong.
“I hope so,” she said, declining to comment on the value of the loot. She added that there was a strong pattern of transferring ivory through Cambodia, with 19 cases having been found since 2014.
Pol Chamroeun, a police officer in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district, said customs officers, Forestry Administration officials and military police had visited Cam Transit Import’s warehouse for a second time on Thursday to search for timber, but was not aware of the results.
Officials from the departments either could not be reached for comment or said they were unaware of the results of the search.
In a separate case, Kenyan officials said on Wednesday they had received a tipoff leading to the seizure of 1.97 tons of ivory valued at about $2 million, according to Reuters.
The stash, which was headed for Cambodia, was similarly hidden in hollowed out “wooden planks and declared as ceramics,” the news agency said.
“The manner in which the tusks were concealed causes a concern to us, as to the manner in which ivory traffickers are adapting new tactics to avoid detection at ports, but we are up to the task,” David Yego, Kenya Revenue Authority’s commissioner for investigations, was reported as saying.
soumy@cambodiadaily.com
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