THAILAND: Police arrest suspected kingpin of wildlife trafficking

THAILAND: Police arrest suspected kingpin of wildlife trafficking

Thai police have arrested a suspected kingpin of wildlife trafficking who allegedly fueled much of Asia’s illegal trade for over a decade, officials said in January 2018.

Boonchai Bach, a 40-year-old Thai of Vietnamese descent, was arrested in January 2018 in the northeastern border province of Nakhon Phanom in connection with the smuggling of 14 rhino horns worth over U.S. $1 million from Africa into Thailand in December 2017. The case also implicated a Thai official and a Chinese and a Vietnamese courier, Thai police said.

Boonchai allegedly ran a large trafficking network on the Thai-Laos border that spread into Vietnam. He and his family played a key role in a criminal syndicate that has smuggled poached items including ivory, rhino horn, pangolins, tigers, lions and other rare and endangered species, according to the anti-trafficking group Freeland Foundation.

Police said Boonchai denied the charges against him. Under the wildlife law, he could face up to four years in prison and a 40,000 baht (U.S. $1,300) fine, but authorities said they’re also considering money-laundering and customs violation charges that carry up to 10 years in prison.

“One of the largest known wildlife traffickers in a really big syndicate has been arrested,” said Matthew Pritchett, Freeland’s director of communications. “In a nutshell, I can’t think of anything in the past five years that has been this significant.”

Thailand is a transit hub for trafficked wildlife mostly destined for China and was considered to have the largest unregulated ivory market in the world before it introduced the Elephant Ivory Act of 2014 and 2015 to regulate the domestic ivory market and criminalize the sale of African elephant ivory. Rhinoceros horns, pangolin scales, turtles and other exotic wildlife are still repeatedly smuggled through Thailand.

Steve Galster, founder of Freeland, said Boonchai’s arrest breaks open Thailand’s “largest wildlife crime case ever.”

“This network is connected to a group of money men who may be living outside the country. We are working to get arrest warrants out on those people as well,” said Gen. Chalermkiat Sriworakhan, deputy police commissioner, pictured left, during a news conference announcing Boonchai’s arrest.  The Associated Press