Thai Authorities Nab Alleged Kingpins in Illegal Ivory, Passport Trades

150320-TH-tusks-620 Thai police arrange confiscated elephant tusks during a news conference in Bangkok, March 19, 2015.

Thailand this week made two breakthroughs in fighting international crime on its territory, arresting two Southeast Asians who allegedly ran an African ivory smuggling ring, and also apprehending an Iranian man suspected of running one of the country’s most extensive counterfeit passport rackets.  

On Thursday, Thai authorities took into custody two alleged kingpins of a transnational ivory ring.

They were arrested in connection with the Dec. 31 seizure in northeastern Surin province of 51 pieces of African ivory worth about 5.8 million baht (U.S. $176,000), the Associated Press reported, citing national police.

The suspects, identified as Boon Ching Teo, a 51-year-old Malaysian, and Sirichai Sridanont, a 50-year-old Thai, are accused of trading in African ivory and smuggling the contraband across Thailand’s southern border, AP said, quoting national police chief Gen. Somyot Pumpanmuang.

The two face a maximum of four years in prison, if convicted.

Thailand, which is one of the top Asian markets for the illegal trade in ivory poached from slaughtered African elephants and rhinos, risks being sanctioned internationally for not doing enough to combat such trafficking, according to AP.

On Friday, the Southeast Asian office of TRAFFIC, a global wildlife trade monitoring network, praised Thai authorities for pulling off the bust.

“It is heartening to see positive enforcement efforts made by Thailand in recent months,” TRAFFIC’s regional program manager Kanitha Krishnasamy, based in Selangor, Malaysia, said in a news release.

TRAFFIC also reported an announcement made a day earlier by James Dawos Mamit, Malaysia’s deputy minister for Natural Resources and the Environment, who said that customs officials had seized 4,624 elephant tusks between 2011 and 2014.

The deputy minister also revealed that two Malaysians and a Chinese citizen were convicted under national laws for illegal ivory possession and trade, TRAFFIC said.

The Chinese national was sentenced to two months in jail and a fine of 250,000 ringgit (U.S. $76,000) for possessing and exporting 16 pieces of ivory; one of the Malaysians was fined 200,000 ringgit (U.S. $60,000), or 36 months in jail, for possessing nine elephant tusks; and the other Malaysian was fined 2,000 ringgit (U.S. $610) for possessing two elephant tusks, according to TRAFFIC.

Facilitating illicit travel

On Wednesday, Thai police announced the arrest of the Iranian national, identified as 45-year-old Murel Gurat, AP reported.

For more than a decade, he had led one of the country’s biggest passport forgery rackets and his arrest was the outcome of a two-year investigation, AP quoted authorities as saying.

Gurat was arrested Sunday during a raid in coastal Chonburi province.

Police and officials with the Department of Special Investigation seized forgery equipment and 1,053 stolen passports from more than 60 countries, AP quoted police Col. Songsak Raksaksakul, the agency's commissioner for transnational crimes, as saying.

"You never saw more than 1,000 passports from 65 countries that went missing show up here in one place. This is the evidence that showed that this network was well connected to other groups all over the world," Songsak told a news conference.

Most of the forged or stolen passports were European. The ring led by Murel purchased and doctored passports for people intending to travel to a third country for illicit reasons, AP reported, citing officials.

The Thai authorities are especially worried that fake passports are winding up in the hands of terrorists and others involved in transnational crime.

In Indonesia, for example, four Uyghur men from China’s Xinjiang province with alleged ties to the Islamic State (IS) are in custody and awaiting trial on charges of raising money to help Indonesian radicals travel abroad to join the jihadist group.

The four are accused of using false Turkish passports purchased in Thailand to enter Indonesia illicitly via Malaysia.      

Gurat is facing multiple charges, including forging passports and false documents, as well as receiving stolen property, AP reported. The offenses carry a maximum of 10 years in prison.

By BenarNews staff with details from news reports.


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