Boonchai Bach, who is suspect of fueling Asia’s illegal wildlife trade for the better part of a decade, was arrested last week in connection with the smuggling of 14 rhino horns from Africa to Thailand. This arrest stemmed from the detention of a government official at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, along with a Chinese smuggler and a Vietnamese courier, transporting the rhino horns. The official then admitted that he was hired to send the horns to a member of Boonchai’s family.
Boonchai allegedly ran a large network in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam that smuggled poached items such as ivory, rhino horn, tigers, lions, pangolins, and other endangered species to all parts of Asia. For the wildlife trafficking, Boonchai faces four years in prison and up to a $1,300 fine, but officials are also considering charges of money laundering and customs violations against him, which can increase the potential length of the potential prison sentence dramatically.
The founder of Freeland, an anti-poaching group that assisted in a 2014 Thai investigation that led to the freezing of $37M over tiger trafficking, called this the “largest wildlife crime case ever.”
The case comes as Thailand is stepping up enforcement of its wildlife laws. In 2016, the Thai government seized the assets, including the home, of Chumlong Lemongthai, who was convicted of rhino horn trafficking in South Africa. Chumlong was involved with a poaching syndicate called Xaysavang, which authorities say include Boonchai. Lemongthai was convicted of taking advantage of South Africa’s trophy hunting permit system. He hired prostitutes to pose as hunters, organized sham expeditions, and the used the syndicate to poach the rhinos and export their horn to Laos.
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