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A customs official inspects elephant tusks at Siem Reap airport on Sunday, after they were found in a Vietnamese man’s luggage when he arrived in the Kingdom. Photo supplied

Wildlife smuggler arrested

A Vietnamese national was charged yesterday with smuggling elephant tusks and parts into Cambodia in what wildlife advocates have dubbed a landmark case.

Ream Chan Mony, a deputy prosecutor at Siem Reap Provincial Court, said 43-year-old Vu Le Thuy was charged with “smuggling illegal wildlife and smuggling illegal goods” before being sent to the provincial prison to await trial.

“We charged him on two counts after he smuggled wildlife bones illegally [into Cambodia] and was arrested at Siem Reap airport.”

Le Thuy arrived in Siem Reap on a flight from Angola on Sunday evening.

Eleven elephant tails and 46.1 kilograms of ivory were seized from his suitcase, according to Suwanna Gauntlett, founder and CEO of the Wildlife Alliance, whose Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) were called by customs officers to assist in the bust. Claws and a jaw belonging to an unidentified big cat were also seized.

Suwanna said the WRRT was cooperating with local officials to find the buyers, whom they believe to live locally.

Doung Net, chief security guard at the airport, said after first pleading his innocence, Le Thuy confessed under questioning. “This is the first time this year that we have cracked down on wildlife smuggling at Siem Reap airport,” he said.

Gauntlett of Wildlife Alliance said it was also the first time that the WRRT had been invited by customs officials to assist in a bust. “It’s crucial, because we have the expertise to deal with this and [yesterday’s action] shows criminal networks that the government is taking this seriously,” she said. “It’s a positive case . . . it’s the first ivory case ever processed through the courts in Cambodia.”



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