Jailed M’sian trafficker used to work with Vietnamese syndicates
PETALING JAYA : The incarceration of Teo Boon Ching, a notorious Malaysian wildlife trafficker who received an 18-month jail sentence in the United States last week, is expected to make a dent in the illegal wildlife trade worldwide.
A middleman in the shady trade, the 58-year-old is said to have facilitated the movement of tonnes of animal parts including rhinoceros horns, elephant tusks and pangolin scales over the past two decades.
These products made their way to mainly China and South-East Asian countries where they are highly-sought after in traditional folk remedies.
According to a report by the US and UK-based Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA), Teo who went by several aliases like Zhang, Datuk Seri and Godfather, was a key player for Vietnamese-led wildlife crime syndicates.
His identity only surfaced when he was first arrested in Thailand in 2015 for the possession of 135kg of ivory.
The EIA report revealed that he was a crucial “specialist transporter” and used Malaysia as a transit point by capitalising on his close connections with the local authorities.
It said that upon receiving animal body parts from poachers, he packaged and smuggled them to clients in other Asian countries, raking in millions of ringgit in the process.
EIA investigations showed that Teo charged between RM500 and RM800 per kilo depending on the type of animal part.
A consignment of a tonne of ivory from Africa would cost a staggering RM800,000 in shipping fees, which included obtaining the necessary customs approvals at the Johor Port and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
The EIA said Teo engaged Malaysia-based freight-forwarding companies to receive animal parts from Africa and knew exactly how to conceal them to evade detection by the authorities.
For instance, to conceal elephant tusks from Africa, Teo would instruct clients to pack the ivory in nylon bags and conceal them in a 20-foot container filled with at least eight tonnes of beans or peanuts, the report said.
Teo also instructed his clients to purchase the shipping containers rather than rent them to avoid risk of scrutiny in the event the rental agreement expires.
Upon arrival in Malaysia and after being cleared by the authorities, these containers were transported to Teo’s own warehouse where the animal parts were repackaged and sent out to clients in other countries by air cargo.
The agency claimed that over a span of two decades, Teo is said to have successfully sneaked in 80 such containers into Malaysia and smuggled their contents to China.
The EIA also learnt that Teo may have had a hand in the smuggling of several tonnes of pangolin scales that were recovered together with 7.2 tonnes of ivory in Hong Kong, the largest such seizure in history.
Teo is also said to be a partner-in-crime of Le Thi Thanh Hai, a Vietnamese woman who operates from the Laos-Vietnam border and is also classified by the EIC as a specialist transporter for wildlife smuggling.
Teo was arrested again by Thai police in June last year before being extradited to the US three months later to face charges for crimes related to wildlife trafficking and money laundering.
Malaysian animal curator and conservationist Darren Chow, who has dealt with wildlife poachers and smugglers, said Teo was an opportunist who was solely into the illicit trade for its lucrative returns.
“The money is huge and the penalties for the offence when one is caught and found guilty is not severe enough to deter a wildlife smuggler. Teo probably took advantage of this.
“A jail sentence of 18 months for transporting the horns of dozens of endangered rhinoceros that were killed for them is merely a slap on the wrist,” he said when contacted.