OPERATION MOZART: Three High-Profile Arrests in Thailand
EAL special ops intelligence gathering efforts leads to the arrest of a notorious wildlife crime kingpin, one the most significant wildlife traffickers in South East Asia on December 12th.
At the same time, in a different operation, the Royal Thai Customs seizes 12.5 kg of rhino horn setting the stage for a ‘flash operation’ that has led to the arrest of two members of the Bach Family wildlife crime syndicate, including a key kingpin.
Elephant Action League (EAL) is very proud to report that the Royal Thai Police, acting on intelligence-gathering and investigative work performed by EAL, arrested one of the most wanted wildlife traffickers in South East Asia, Kampanart “Sia Tang” Chaiyamart, in Thailand on December 12, 2017.
The arrest of the head of the Chaiyamart sindycate was made after months of field activities by EAL’s Special Operations Division (SOD), and thanks to the exceptional work of the Thai Authorities. Kampanart Chaiyamart, 35, was first arrested in 2014 after a botched deal and a routine inspection at a police checkpoint in Thailand. This turned out to be the country’s biggest bust of an alleged Siamese rosewood smuggling kingpin.
Chaiyamart’s extensive network was also involved in smuggling live pangolins, elephant ivory, and other rare animals from Southern Thailand to China. Investigators discovered that between 2011 and 2014 Chaiyamart’s operation laundered 1.18 billion baht (35 million US Dollars in 2014) through a series of bank accounts. According to the Thai Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO), Kampanart relied upon a vast network of associates throughout Southeast Asia to handle transactions. Kampanart’s networks utilized as many as 28 separate accounts and exploited his connections in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Malaysia to move money. The network appears to have relied heavily upon cash transactions.
Unfortunately, Chaiyamart was able to get out of jail in 2016 and continue his operations. Since his release, Chaiyamart’s network has continued to traffic elephant ivory, rhino horn, pangolins, live animals such as orangutans, and illegal timber. This arrest is a significant achievement for EAL and its newly created Special Operations Division (SOD), a covert unit within EAL comprised exclusively of former intelligence and law enforcement officers and lead by EAL’s executive director, Mr. Andrea Crosta. The SOD works to collect intelligence and investigate wildlife crime globally and, when possible, to help local law enforcement agencies effectively combat wildlife crime.
This success proves that the intelligence-based approach employed by EAL works. According to Mr. Crosta, “This shows that an NGO can, in fact, successfully conduct complex undercover operations, in countries around the world, and provide local law enforcement the information and support it needs to effectively confront and disrupt wildlife trafficking kingpins and their networks.”
In a second joint operation, the Royal Thai authorities arrested a wildlife trafficker from the Bach Family Syndicate. If it was not for Royal Thai Customs seizing 12.5 kg of rhino horn on December 12, 2017, this operation would not have taken place. This seizure offered an opportunity for EAL and Thai authorities to target a known trafficking network.
Royal Thai Customs seized rhino horn coming from South Africa and arrested a Chinese mule and a Thai national. Following the arrest, EAL’s intelligence team identified a connection between this shipment to the Bach Family trafficking network. EAL’s team then cooperated with the Royal Thai Customs and the Royal Thai Police in an operation that resulted in the arrest of Mr. Bach Van Hoa.
EAL’s director, Mr. Andrea Crosta, indicated that he “believes that this specific ring of traffickers that we took down is behind the smuggling of at least 56.5 kg of rhino horn from South Africa in the past four months.” The total value of this raw rhino horn on the wholesale black market in China is at least USD 2 million (before being processed, carved, or ground).
The Bach Family is a major trafficking syndicate let by two brothers and with operations in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. In October 2016, the Bach brothers were the focus of this article in the Guardian Newspaper. This article outlined some of the criminal associates of the Bach brothers, including the well known kingpin Vixay Keosavang and two unnamed South African criminals. In 2013, the US Government called the Keosavang syndicate one of the most prolific international wildlife trafficking syndicates and issued a US$1 million reward for information “leading to the dismantling” of the network.
Finally, this last arrest triggered an even more important arrest, the one of Boonchai Bach, 40, a Vietnamese national with Thai citizenship, who got arrested over the smuggling of 14 rhino horns worth around $1 million from Africa to Thailand. The horns were smuggled into Thailand by a Chinese man who was arrested a day before, on arrival from Johannesburg, South Africa. Read here our December 12th press release.
According to Mr. Crosta, “The work is far from over as EAL and our partners will be working to fully disrupt these trafficking networks for many months – maybe even years.” These arrests are further proof that not only is it possible to perform good intelligence and investigative work in collaboration with experienced local authorities, but it is also possible to strike a blow to the criminal networks and kingpins that control and drive international wildlife trafficking.
Mr. Crosta indicated that “The Royal Thai authorities, especially Police and Customs, must be praised and thanked for their exceptional work and willingness to capture this important wildlife criminal. They are a bright example in South East Asia.” He went on to say that, “We so appreciate the cooperation of local authorities and hope that this relationship leads to further arrests and convictions of wildlife traffickers.”