Border watch for Lao wildlife smuggler

Border checkpoints have been ordered to watch for a Lao woman believed to be part of an international wildlife smuggling syndicate, the chief of the Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Suppression Division said on Thursday.

Norasak Hemnithi told the ''Inside Thailand'' radio talk show broadcast on FM97 that it is believed Loy Chanthawongsa, who lives in Laos, had been shown by immigration records to have frequently entered Thailand through northeastern provinces.

Pol Sgt Maj Jakkapan Panprasert, left, and Pol Sgt Phetcharit Panthaisong of Suvarnabhumi Police Station are two of the three officers charged with wildlife trafficking on Wednesday. (Photo by Surapol Promsaka Na Sakolnakorn)

Ms Loy, 35, is wanted in connection with three policemen at Suvarnabhumi Airport who were charged on Wednesday with the trafficking of rhinoceros horns into Thailand on Jan 6.

Pol Sgt Maj Samai Ratchjangvang, Pol Sgt Jakkapan Panprasert and Pol Sgt Phetcharit Panthaisong were summonsed on Wednesday to hear the charges. All three denied them and said they would fight the accusation in court.

The three officers allegedly tried to smuggle out of the airport building four horns weighing 10.6 kilogrammes brought into Thailand in luggage and estimated to be worth 12.7 million baht on the black market.

Footage from a closed circuit security camera showed the luggage's owner was Pham Quang Loc, a Vietnamese citizen, who flew into Bangkok from Mozambique by Ethiopia Airlines on Jan 6. He was waiting to catch another flight to Vietnam.

Wildlife police interrogated Mr Loc, filed smuggling charges against him and sent him to await trial at Samut Prakan Prison, Pol Maj Gen Norasak said. Ms Loy stepped in as his interpreter, he added.

The Lao woman quickly left the airport afterwards and further investigation had uncovered her likely involvement in the smuggling, the division chief said.

Poj Maj Gen Norasak said Ms Loy could have been a courier and was to take the horns to Laos through Nakhon Phanom or Mukdahan provinces.

All of the suspects are believed to be part of a wildlife smuggling gang led by Vixay Keosavang, a Lao man based in the Lao province of Bolikhamxay, opposite Thailand's Bung Kan province, he said.

Mr Vixay's role was exposed in the International Herald Tribune on Monday.

His name became known when Chumlong Lemtongthai, a Thai national, told police in South Africa that he worked for him.

Chumlong was sentenced to 40 years in a South African jail in November last year after being arrested in July 2011. He pleaded guilty to organising bogus trophy hunts to sell illegal rhino horn on the international black market.

Related search: wildlife conservation, rhino horn, south africa, thailand, laos, vietnam, suvarnahumi airport, smuggling

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Writer: Amornrat Mahitthirook and Saritdet Marukatat