Showdown with Wildlife Mafia Gets Support from US Government

Vixay Keosovang (left) with his deputy, convicted rhino horn trafficker, Chumlong Lemtongthai, members of the Xaysavang Syndicate

Vixay Keosovang (left) with his deputy, convicted rhino horn trafficker, Chumlong Lemtongthai, members of the Xaysavang Syndicate

Vixay Keosovang (left) with his deputy, convicted rhino horn trafficker, Chumlong Lemtongthai, members of the Xaysavang Syndicate

Freeland’s nine year effort in supporting government investigators to bring down the Southeast Asia-based Xaysavang wildlife trafficking syndicate got a boost this week from the U.S. Government when Secretary of State John Kerry announced a $1 million reward for information leading to the syndicate’s dismantlement. Following a joint expose’ with the New York Times/International Herald Tribune in early March on one of Asia’s biggest wildlife trafficking networks, Freeland provided the U.S. State Department tip-offs it gathered since 2004 from numerous sources on the “kingpin”, Vixay Keosavang, as well as his black market connections through Asia and Africa.

“The Xaysavang syndicate has been responsible for the slaughter and illegal trafficking of literally tons and tons of tigers, elephants, rhinos, snakes, turtles, pangolins and other wild creatures for at least 9 to 10 years that we know about,” said Freeland Director Steven Galster.  “The network includes corrupt officers and crooks from a variety of countries that have all benefited from this dirty business.  We tried getting national and international agencies to do something about the syndicate until it was clear that the only recourse was public exposure.  We are glad to see the United States Government step in and hope other governments will join the man hunt.”

South African authorities did arrest and convict Chumlong Lemtongthai, a senior member of the Xaysavang Syndicate and sentenced him to 30 years in prison last year.  They were not able to extradite Keosovang, who was named in affidavits as the boss ordering significant amounts of rhino horn from their country.  Between January and March this year, Freeland provided information to the Royal Thai Police to help arrest 3 corrupt police officers who were helping smugglers move African rhino horn through Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.  But they were not successful in nabbing Loy Chanthavongsa, another senior member of the Xaysavang syndicate who was paying the corrupt police. A warrant for her arrest is outstanding.

“No one has touched Keosavang, his main partners in Vietnam, or other big shots yet,” Galster added.  “Meanwhile, we’ve noticed another group –possibly a parallel syndicate– stepping in to fill an emerging power vacuum.”

Freeland will be traveling to Laos to present its findings to authorities, who until now have refused to acknowledge the presence of such a syndicate operating from their territory.  Meetings are also being set up with relevant authorities in other countries.

Note to the editor:

The official statement from the U.S. Department of State on the reward can be found here.

FREELAND is an international conservation organization dedicated to a world free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery. FREELAND works throughout Asia, raising public awareness and building local capacity to protect critical ecosystems, wildlife and vulnerable people. FREELAND is the lead implementing partner of ARREST (Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking), a program sponsored by the United States Government in partnership with ASEAN and over 50 governmental and non-governmental organizations. For more info, visit www.freeland.org also; follow FREELAND on twitter @FREELANDpeople or facebook.com/freelandfoundation

Bitnami