I am lying in bed, wrapped up in my robe and nursing a very bad cold. I am also battling the drowsy effects of the medication that I have been given. Hence, tonight’s post will have to be short out of necessity as I drift in and out of consciousness.
However, I wanted to post on and put on record my elation and my disappointment about the arrest of Anson Wong on August 26th 2010 and his subsequent trial and sentencing. Anson Wong is well known to be a smuggler and trader of endangered animals and yet, it seemed he was confident that he would never face the consequences as long as he remained in Malaysia.
He was arrested and sentenced by a US federal court in San Francisco to 71 months in prison for smuggling and trading in endangered wildlife in 2001. He was also prominently named as “the most important person in the international reptile business” and “reptile smuggling’s crown jewel” by a book by lawyer turned writer, Bryan Christy. In the book, The Lizard King, Anson Wong is described as “the Pablo Escobar of wildlife trafficking,” More importantly, allegations were made by the book and supported by other sources that Anson was “protected” by a senior officer in the Wildlife Department (the very government agency that is suppose to enforce the law on smuggling endangered animals) and also had special status with the Malaysian Customs Officers.
However, he did seem untouchable in Malaysia. Calls for the government to investigate these claims of corruption of senior officers have been largely ignored and there was even talk of taking legal action against Bryan Christy and the National Geographic for printing those allegations.
Finally, though it seemed his luck ran out when his suitcase burst open on a conveyor belt while he was on transit in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport as he flew from Penang to Jakarta. On examination, 95 boa constrictors were found in his luggage.
He was quickly arrested and sentenced. It seemed that perhaps his protected status was over……or was it. The sentence was extremely light and was a disappointment to all environmentalists and conservationists. The judge merely sentenced Anson Wong to 6 months jail and a fine of RM 190,000 or about USD60,000. The fine works out to just USD 630 per snake. This is hardly a deterrent as each snake could have been sold for at least 5 times that. The good sign is that the government has indicated that they will appeal against the light sentence and they are assuring the public that they will get to the bottom of all this.
Yet, conservationists can be forgiven if they are cynical about the government response. There are still too many questions left unanswered or unasked. For example, how did this guy routinely smuggle animals like boa constrictors in his luggage when the luggage is routinely X-rayed at the airport. The transfer of senior officials associated to Anson Wong but failure to take further action also raises questions.
Something is rotten in the state of animal protection in Malaysia and though it is good to see Anson Wong sentenced, one wonders whether it will have any impact on the systemic rottenness and on Malaysia’s reputation as a hub for animal trafficking.