(c) Anthony Bannister

Jailing of international wildlife crime kingpin Teo Boon Ching is a body-blow to illegal trade

Asian illegal wildlife trade kingpin Teo Boon Ching has been sentenced to 18 months in prison by a court in New York for large-scale trafficking of rhinoceros horns.

The full scope of his criminal activities was exposed five years ago by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA UK), which supplied a substantial amount of intelligence on his modus operandi and activities to US enforcement agents.

Teo, whose nicknames include ‘Godfather’, was extradited from Thailand to the US last October to face charges of conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking, promotion of money laundering and concealment of money laundering.

Following his sentencing yesterday (19 September) by US District Judge Paul A. Crotty at the Southern District Court, EIA UK Executive Director Mary Rice said: “This is a commendable result and takes a key player out of the hugely profitable wildlife trafficking business.

Teo Boon Ching talking with EIA undercover investigators (c) EIA

“Chinese and Vietnamese organised crime networks have long exploited Malaysia and other South-East Asian countries as transit hubs for smuggling illegal wildlife commodities from Africa into Asia.

“The jailing of Teo Boon Ching and related US Treasury Department sanctions against him and his alleged trafficking organisation constitute a body-blow to their ability to function.”

Based in Asia, with major operations in Malaysia and Thailand, Teo was directly involved with the large-scale international trafficking and smuggling of rhinoceros horns, ivory and pangolin scales.

He was arrested following a covert sting operation in which he conspired to transport, distribute, sell and smuggle at least 219kg of rhinoceros horns worth more than $2.1m.

EIA’s investigations established that Teo has been involved in the transnational illegal wildlife trade for more than two decades, providing concealment and packing services to a number of criminal networks involved in the smuggling of elephant ivory, rhino horns and pangolin scales into Asia via Malaysian ports.

Teo first appeared on the law enforcement radar in 2015 for ivory trafficking and the full extent of his activities was revealed in EIA’s 2018 report Exposing the Hydra, after the NGO’s undercover investigators documented his role as a specialist transporter assisting Vietnamese and Chinese criminal syndicates.

Teo boasted to them that, as of 2017, he had provided clearance services for approximately 80 containers, with only one seizure since he started operations.

He also claimed to have played a significant logistics role in the recovery of two shipments of pangolin scales linked to the seizure of 7.2 tonnes of elephant ivory, which occurred in Hong Kong in July 2017.

Based on EIA’s investigations, Teo was believed to have strong connections to Customs officials at Johor Port, who enabled his customers to enter the Customs Clearance Warehouse to verify goods once the wildlife shipments had arrived in Malaysia. Once cleared, the consignments were moved to Teo’s own warehouse for repacking into multiple standard air cargo packages for onward transportation.

He had further established strong connections with individuals involved in the acquisition and distribution of illicit wildlife commodities in Malaysia, Vietnam, China and Laos.

Rice added: “We applaud the US and other agencies in all relevant countries for working together in the spirit of international cooperation on this case in order to achieve a successful outcome.’’