KOTA KINABALU: It was declared as a shipment of peanuts but tucked inside the two 20-foot containers was something much more exotic.
Inspections by Customs officers at the Sepanggar Port here unveiled a massive cache of wildlife parts – elephant tusks and pangolin scales – worth a staggering RM80.5mil.
The Aug 29 attempt by an international syndicate using the country’s port as a transit point to smuggle out the cache was thwarted with this latest success.
Last July, the world’s largest seizure of ivory took place in Hong Kong when more than seven tonnes arrived in a shipping container from Malaysia.
The 7,200kg shipment – valued at £7.1mil (RM39.1mil) – was uncovered by the authorities in the former British colony, highlighting the huge demand for the illegal ivory trade.
The pangolin, which resembles an armadillo, is the world’s most hunted animal.
Their scales are sold in the black market in Asia for their supposedly “healing properties”.
Customs director-general Datuk Seri Subromaniam Tholasy described the latest seizure as “shocking” due to its sheer volume.
“We want to know how 1,148 elephant tusks, weighing more than three tonnes, worth RM9.9mil, and five tonnes of pangolin scales valued at RM70.6mil could slip through a port of a nearby country before arriving in Sabah.
“I am warning all these syndicates not to use Malaysian ports as transhipment points to smuggle illegal wildlife parts.
“We have zero tolerance and will take stern action,” he told a press conference yesterday.
Subromaniam said initial investigations showed the elephant tusks and pangolin scales had originated from Nigeria and were believed to be bound for China.
“We have upgraded our capabilities to scan shipments of containers which is why we managed to detect tonnes of elephant tusks and pangolin scales hidden in between a shipment of peanuts,” Subromaniam said.
He said a 42-year-old Sabahan has been detained in connection with the seizure.
The case is being investigated under Section 135 of the Customs Act 1967 and the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001.