US Arrests Cambodian Officials for Smuggling Endangered Monkeys

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Masphal Kry, the Cambodian Deputy Director of the Department of Wildlife and Biodiversity was one of the eight people who were detained at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Kry was on his way to a global wildlife trade summit in Panama when he was arrested with multiple felonies for allegedly being one of the members of an international primate smuggling ring that has been bringing the endangered wild long-tailed macaques into the United States.

The monkeys were being sold to US research facilities, as animals bred in captivity. Allegations also state that the 46-year-old has accepted bribes and personally delivered these monkeys that were caught in the wild.

The other defendants in the case include Omaliss Keo, 58, the Director General of the forestry administration, James Man Sang Lau, 64, Founder/Owner Vanny Resources Holdings, Ltd., an animal-breeding farm in Hong Kong, Dickson Lau, 29, General Manager Vanny Resources Holdings Ltd., Sunny Chan, Deputy General Manager (Operations) at Vanny Group, Raphael Cheung Man, 71, of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Public Relations and Export Manager for Vanny Bio Research (Cambodia) Corporation Ltd., Sarah Yeung, Finance Officer of Vanny Group, Hing Ip Chung, 61, General Manager of Vanny Bio Research (Cambodia) Corporation Ltd.

James Lau and Dickson Lau from Vanny Resource Holdings are said to have been using breeding facilities in Cambodia to compensate for shortage of captive-bred monkeys and had enlisted the assistance of relevant government officials “to deliver wild-caught macaques taken from national parks and protected areas in Cambodia”.

They then used false export paperwork citing the monkeys as captive bred to deliver them to Florida and Texas. Around 3,000 monkeys were exported in this manner and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) were paid in cash for the same.

The eight individuals were charged with the US’s oldest wildlife protection law, the Lacey Act, and with smuggling and conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act. Two years ago, Vanny Resource Holdings is also believed to have paid over USD 2.5 million for 14,000 macaques that were caught from the wild by seven black market suppliers.

Cambodian government has meanwhile said that it will do its best to seek justice for its officials arrested in transit in the US to attend the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) meeting in Panama while respecting the rules and regulations in place.
“The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) and the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) will make our utmost efforts to seek justice for our officials, especially those on official duty representing the country according to international conventions,” said MAFF in a press release on Thursday evening.
“We uphold the CITES convention’s principles and laws. It is a big irony that the person who was going to attend an official meeting at the United Nations forum to protect the endangered species of wild fauna and flora, has been arrested under such alleged conspiracy, while both Cambodia and the US, maintain good diplomatic relations,” MAFF said.
The release stated that the macaques also known as crab-eating monkeys are found all over Cambodia, in the wilderness and suburban and urban areas including Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh. They have been farmed since 2005 and exported for pharmaceutical research for new medicines, vaccines as well as cosmetic products. It clarified that the monkeys are not caught from the wilderness and smuggled out, but farmed in a decent way maintaining good hygiene and health standards to preserve their gene pool.
Dany Chheang, deputy director general of Cambodia’s forestry administration, informed National Geographic that laundering of wild-caught macaques “doesn’t happen,” and “People just make noise.” According to him, even monkeys found at tourist sites like pagodas are not killed or used for research, they are sent to a sanctuary.

He further added, “This is international trade, so we can’t do things without CITES permits. It’s all in the log books.” CITES has regulated long-tailed macaques since 1977, so every shipment carrying these protected animals requires paperwork declaring their origin.

“Macaque farming is successful for conservation, if it weren’t for captive breeding, these animals would have disappeared long ago,” he concluded.