330kg of Malawi ivory seized at Suvarnabhumi

330kg of Malawi ivory seized at Suvarnabhumi

Police and customs unpack 422 pieces of ivory from Malawi weighing 330kg, after the arrest of the alleged smuggler, of a Gambian man identified as Sainey Jagne. (Photo and video by Somchai Poomlard)
Police and customs unpack 422 pieces of ivory from Malawi weighing 330kg, after the arrest of the alleged smuggler, of a Gambian man identified as Sainey Jagne. (Photo and video by Somchai Poomlard)

Officials on Tuesday confiscated more than 300kg of elephant tusks from Malawi at Suvarnabhumi airport and arrested a Gambian national on charges of ivory smuggling and violating customs laws.

The seizure was announced Tuesday by the Customs Department, the Department of National Parks Wildlife and Plant Conservation, and police.

The tusks, 422 individual pieces worth about 17 million baht, were seized at the airport on Sunday after customs officials became suspicious of two shipments arriving via Ethiopian Airlines.

The cargo, on flights ET618 on March 3 and ET628 on March 4, had been declared as "rough stone".

The two shipments weighed more than 1,900kg in total.

Officials became suspicious because the flights originated at Lilongwe airport in Malawi, a southern African country that has previously been identified as a key transit route and distribution hub for illicit ivory. Smugglers usually hide contraband items among other goods.

The shipments were scanned and officials found what looked like elephant tusks hidden among the stones.

When a Gambian national showed up at the airport on Sunday to claim the cargo, the authorities asked him to open the containers. They found stones and the tusks weighing 330kg.

The man, identified as Sainey Jagne from Gambia, was charged with smuggling wildlife under the wildlife protection law and importing prohibited products under the customs law.

The suspect has lived in Thailand for 15 years and he has a Thai wife and three children. His occupation is unknown.

Customs Department director-general Kulis Sombatsiri said Tuesday that Thailand remains a hub for illegal African ivory smuggling despite concerted efforts to combat the trade.

He said smugglers are willing to take the risk of shipping the ivory to Thailand to be carved which will increase the product value significantly. Thailand is known for its ivory craftsmanship.

He said the department has been working with authorities to stop the illegal ivory trade -- a commitment the government has made to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

According to the department's records, from 2015 to the present, 24 people have been arrested and 3,027 elephant tusks weighing over 7 tonnes seized.

The latest haul by the authorities is the first of this year.


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