Thailand Seizes 7 Tons of African Ivory in Record Busts


2015.04.27
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150427-TH-ivory-620 Thai customs officers inspect confiscated elephant tusks during a press conference at the Customs Bureau in Bangkok, April 27, 2015.
AFP

Updated at 7:20 p.m. ET on 2015-04-27

Thai authorities have hauled in a record seven tons of smuggled African ivory in the last eight days, worth some $12 million and destined for sale in Laos, customs officials say.

On Saturday, officials found 511 pieces of ivory stashed in crates of tea leaves from Kenya, according to a statement issued by Thai Customs on Monday.

The shipment passed through Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore before arriving in Thailand at Laem Chabang Port in Chon Buri province, the statement said.

“After crossing the Lao border, the tusks would be distributed to buyers from China, Vietnam and Thailand,” it said.

Saturday’s haul followed the seizure on April 20 of 739 tusks buried in bags of dried beans from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Last week’s haul was described as Thailand’s biggest ivory seizure ever.

That shipment passed through Malaysia and was stopped at a port in Bangkok.

Each shipment was valued at around $6 million.

"We have been following the (shipment) for two months. Intelligence reports said ivory from Africa might be smuggled with other products to go through the Laotian border," Thai Customs director-general Somchai Sujjapongse told reporters at the time, according to the Associated Press.

Last month, Thai authorities arrested a Malaysian and a Thai who were alleged kingpins of a transnational ivory trafficking ring. The two were suspected of trading in African ivory and smuggling the contraband across Thailand’s southern border. They were arrested in connection with the seizure, last December, of 51 pieces of African ivory in northeastern Surin province.

Laos "is increasingly being used as a major transit point for such large volumes of illicit ivory and other wildlife products," Chris Shepherd of the conservation group TRAFFIC told Agence-France Presse.

"The increase in large-scale seizures is of great concern. Whether the ivory is coming from freshly killed elephants, or from stockpiles of ivory in Africa, needs to be investigated," AFP quoted him as saying.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a global regulator, has threatened to ban Thailand's wildlife business if it fails to curb the trade in tusks on its soil, AFP said.

Thai law permits the sale of registered ivory from domesticated Thai elephants, AFP reported. But, experts say, criminal gangs launder illegal African ivory through the kingdom.

By BenarNews staff with details from news reports.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that a second seizure of ivory took place in Ubon Ratchathani province, eastern Thailand.

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