Malaysia’s ‘Lizard King’ under probe for wildlife smuggling, report says

Anson Wong, A.K.A The Lizard King, gets physical when 101 East Presenter, Steve Chao asks him whether he continues to trade in threatened and endangered animals.  — Picture courtesy of Al Jazeera
Anson Wong, A.K.A The Lizard King, gets physical when 101 East Presenter, Steve Chao asks him whether he continues to trade in threatened and endangered animals. — Picture courtesy of Al Jazeera

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22 — Local authorities have again opened investigations on Anson Wong after an exclusive documentary by international news channel Al-Jazeera revealed this morning that Malaysia’s notorious “Lizard King” is still operating his illicit wildlife trading business.

According to a report on international news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP), the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) confirmed the probe.

“The department is investigating both,” Perhilitan enforcement division director Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim was quoted as telling the agency in an email today after the documentary on Al-Jazeera.

Abdul Kadir was referring to Wong and his wife Cheah Bing Shee, who is alleged to be complicit in the illegal trading activities.

AFP also reported that Abdul Kadir had confirmed that Wong’s previous licenses for legitimate wildlife trading remained revoked after he was convicted an jailed in 2010 for smuggling snakes.

Al Jazeera’s 101 East “Return of the Lizard King” premiered at 6.30am today, was repeated in a second segment at 6.30pm.

According to Al-Jazeera’s news reporter Steven Chao who has been hot on Wong’s trail for over a year, the “Lizard King” had continued to operate openly in Penang even after an appellate court granted his freedom in 2012.

Wong even allegedly holds wildlife trading permits, although they were earlier revoked.

Chao said that far from being kept away from the trade, the wildlife dealer continued to hold captive exotic animals such rare tortoises, wild cats from North Africa, albino pythons, white and yellow snakes, deadly vipers, and chameleons in stash houses in Penang.

According to the reporter, one of Wong’s trusted distributors, an Indonesian, would bribe Customs officials here to allow wildlife to be shipped by boat from ports in Penang to Jakarta, a different method from the customary air shipping.

Chao alleged that the smuggling includes moving critically-endangered wildlife from countries like Madagascar, India and Sri Lanka to the United States and various parts of Europe. Among the species traded were the Ploughshare tortoise from Madagascar, of which there are only 400 adults left in the world.

An adult female Ploughshare can go on the black market for a whopping US$24,000 (RM76,284) and is usually sold as an exotic pet.

The “Lizard King’s” other offerings are said to include the Indian star tortoise from India, as well as sun bears, pangolins and small deer from Malaysia. An adult pangolin could fetch US$1,000 (RM3,180).

The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth at least US$19 billion annually, according to the World Wildlife Fund in 2012.

The international conservation group also said last December that wildlife trafficking — which is the fourth largest illegal global trade after narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking — is being run increasingly by organised crime syndicates to buy weapons, to fund terrorists, and to finance civil conflicts.

“Trade in wildlife is no longer just a green crime,” said Chao.

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