Thai police arrested a Vietnamese citizen who they said had an international network that trafficked massive amounts of elephant ivory, rhinoceros horn and wildlife, threatening the existence of endangered species in Asia and Africa for years.
Boonchai Bach, 40, was arrested Friday in Nakhon Phanom, a province in northeastern Thailand bordering Laos, in connection with illegal trafficking of 14 African rhinoceros horns to Thailand in December, according to Freeland Foundation, a group against trafficking that Boonchai and his family have been tracking for years. The case, which involved rhinoceros horns with a value of $ 1 million, also involved a Thai official, a Chinese smuggler and a Vietnamese messenger, the Associated Press reported.
"This arrest is significant for many reasons, the confiscated items are of high value, and we can arrest the entire network involved, starting with the mail, the facilitator, the exporter," who planned to move the goods through the border between Thailand and Laos, "said Col. Chutrakul Yodmadee of the Thai police.
Boonchai denied the accusations against him.
Thai authorities have been investigating his family for years, focusing on Boonchai in December, when Thai customs officials found hidden rhinoceros horns on a flight from Ethiopia, the flight was carrying Vietnamese and Chinese passengers, raising suspicions among customs officials, according to the Freeland Foundation, after which a Thai airport official was arrested and admitted Having worked with a Chinese smuggler and a Boonchai relative, all three are being held in a Thai prison
The Freeland Foundation said that this week there was new evidence that led to the arrest of Boonchai.
"The arrest spells hope for wildlife, and we hope that Thailand, its neighboring countries and their counterparts in Africa will build this completely separate Hydra arrest and rip," said the group's founder, Steven Galster, referring to a network of suppliers. and buyers throughout Asia.
The Bach family, with Boonchai as leader, led the illegal trafficking of Asian and African exotic fauna, including ivory elephant, rhinoceros horns, pangolins, tigers, lions and other endangered species, to the main distributors in Laos, Vietnam and China, according to the Freeland Foundation. Authorities also believe that the Bachs were the main supplier to Vixay Keosavang, a Laotian wildlife dealer nicknamed the "Pablo Escobar of wildlife trafficking" in a 2013 New York Times story.
According to the authorities, the Bach's original family traffic leader was Bach Van Lim, Boonchai's older brother. In 2005, he transferred part of his authority to Boonchai, who operated the headquarters in Nakhon Phanom. The smuggling was brought from there to Laos through the nearby Mekong River and transported to Vietnam and China, the Freeland Foundation said.
Boonchai could face up to four years in prison and a fine of 40,000 baht ($ 1,300), the AP reported. . The authorities could also accuse him of money laundering and violation of customs, crimes that could add a sentence of up to 10 more years.
Thai police have been cracking down on the country's ivory trade for years. Officials announced in July that they seized more than 400 tusks and elephant fragments in a single case.
"We have made serious efforts to prevent elephant ivory being smuggled into the country and sent to another country … If we prevent the ivory from being smuggled out of the country, we will destroy it. to more and more suspects with tangible results, "said Deputy Commissioner Gen. Chalermkiat Sriworakhan in July, according to the AP.
Thai authorities also frozen $ 37 million in assets linked to tiger traffic in northeastern Thailand. In 2016, authorities confiscated bank accounts and assets of a Thai who was convicted of rhinoceros horned trafficking in South Africa.
Days before the arrest of Boonchai, Thai authorities seized 326 pounds of African elephant ivory, including three large tusks, worth about $ 469,800 from a Bangkok airport.
Ivory, which comes from the tusks of elephants, is used as jewelry, ornaments, medicines, chopsticks and others. Markets in the United States and Asia, particularly in China, fueled the demand, according to a 2015 international survey conducted by National Geographic, which resulted in the deaths of some 30,000 elephants each year.
Last spring, China closed dozens of f. Its ivory facilities are licensed, a move that some see as a sign that the country intends to help end the ivory trade.
In November, the Trump administration announced that it will reverse the import ban on elephants of the Obama era hunting trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. President Donald Trump then decided to keep the ban in place, at least for now, after protests by animal rights groups.