Alleged Malaysian wildlife trafficker hit with US sanctions

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. on Friday targeted an alleged Malaysian wildlife trafficker and what officials called his transnational criminal organization for financial sanctions related to the illegal shipment of rhino horn, ivory and other specimens.

The Treasury Department said Malaysian national Teo Boon Ching, his alleged trafficking organization and the Malaysian firm Sunrise Greenland Sdn. Bhd. engage in the “cruel trafficking of endangered and threatened wildlife and the products of brutal poaching.”

Teo specializes in the transportation of rhino horn, ivory, and pangolins — also known as scaly anteaters — from Africa, using routes through Malaysia and Laos to consumers in Vietnam and China, the U.S. said.

Teo was arrested in Thailand on June 29 and extradited to the U.S. on Friday, according to a joint statement by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams and Assistant Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement Edward J. Grace.

Teo, 57, faces one count of conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking and two counts of money laundering. The money laundering charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and the trafficking conspiracy charge carries a maximum of five years imprisonment, the statement said.

It was not immediately clear if Teo was represented by a U.S. attorney who could comment on his behalf.

The Justice Department has accused Teo of participating in a conspiracy to traffic in more than 70 kilograms (154 pounds) of rhinoceros horns valued at more than $725,000, which involved poaching several animals from the endangered species, and laundering the proceeds.

Teo led a transnational criminal enterprise based in Asia with significant operations in Malaysia and Thailand. Their activities included poaching and international trafficking and smuggling of rhinoceros horns, the Justice Department said.

Teo allegedly served as a specialized smuggler, transporting rhinoceros horns from poaching operations centered largely in Africa to customers primarily in Asia. Teo also claimed to be able to ship rhinoceros horns to the U.S., authorities said.

Among other things, the sanctions deny Teo and others access to any property or financial assets held in the U.S. and prevent U.S. companies and people from doing business with them.

The Associated Press was not immediately able to contact Sunrise Greenland for comment. The company is based in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor, near Singapore.

Seizures of pangolin scales increased 10-fold between 2014 and 2018, according to the U.N.’s 2020 World Wildlife Crime Report.

Criminals tend to exploit legislative and enforcement gaps in some countries in efforts to hide the illegal trafficking, the report said.

“This is the case, for example, with pangolin scale traders who choose to store their stock in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as opposed to other source countries due to a perception of lesser capacity for interdiction,” the U.N. said.

Brian E. Nelson, Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and illicit finance, said wildlife trafficking groups perpetuate corruption and illicit finance.

“The United States considers wildlife trafficking to be not only a critical conservation concern, but also a threat to global security,” Nelson said.

Treasury worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, State Department and the government of Thailand to uncover the case.

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