BANGKOK (AP) — Thai authorities on Thursday arrested two men they said were behind a transnational ivory trade network after seizing more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of African ivory in the biggest bust in recent years.
Thailand is one of the top destinations for African ivory smuggling in Asia and could face international sanctions soon if it doesn't show progress in combatting the problem.
Police arrested Boon Ching Teo, 51, of Malaysia, and Sirichai Sridanont, 50, of Thailand, after seizing 51 pieces of African ivory Dec. 31 in the northeastern province of Surin, national police chief Gen. Somyot Pumpanmuang said. The ivory weighed in total about 135 kilograms (297 pounds) and was worth about 5.8 million baht ($176,000).
The suspects were accused of trading and smuggling African ivory through Thailand's southern border and face a maximum prison term of four years if they are convicted. Teo's traveling documents showed he had made frequent visits to Thailand and had visited Kenya and other African countries, Somyot told reporters at a news conference.
Poachers have killed tens of thousands of African elephants for their tusks in recent years to meet demand for ivory in Asia. China has imposed a one-year ban on ivory imports amid criticism that its citizens' huge appetite for ivory threatens the existence of Africa's elephants.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora may sanction Thailand unless it shows progress in solving the ivory smuggling problem. The country is scheduled to submit a report on its progress to CITES at the end of March.
If CITES is not satisfied with Thailand's progress, it could impose sanctions that affect the country's exports of orchids, fancy fish and leather, which could cost 40 billion to 50 billion baht ($1.2billion-$1.5 billion) in losses, said Gen. Dawpong Ratanasuwan, the Natural Resources and Environment Minister.