Uganda detains Vietnamese wildlife trafficking suspects

By Minh Nga   March 5, 2019 | 04:14 am PT
Uganda detains Vietnamese wildlife trafficking suspects
Uganda is on the hunt for 16 Vietnamese suspects it believes to traffic ivory and pangolin scales worth up to $8 million into its soil. By Shutterstock/Svetlana Foote
Ugandan authorities Saturday stopped two Vietnamese men from boarding their plane, suspecting them of smuggling ivory and pangolin scales.

Officers of the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) Customs Enforcement Intelligence detained Nguyen Van Thanh and Dinh Van Chung at the Entebbe International Airport as they were about to board a plane, the Daily Monitor reported.

They are suspected of belonging to a group of 18 Vietnamese men involved in smuggling ivory pieces and pangolin scales worth $8 million that Uganda has been tracking for weeks.

The URA recently shared photos of the suspects, saying all the 18 Vietnamese men are on the run in connection with the wildlife trafficking case.

The smuggled goods were concealed in timber logs and could have originated in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and passed through South Sudan before entering Uganda, the URA said.

Uganda police discovered the illegal cargo and seized it in early February.

URA identified the suspects as Thai Xuan Phuong, Dinh Van Quan alias Tony, Din Van Chung, Vo Quoc Trinh, Thai Xuan Tuan alias UNK, Do Trong Ha alias Hoang Ha, Tran Van Cao alias UNK, Vu Van Huan alias Jimmy, Trinh Trung Dung alias UNK, Le Viet Quyen alias UNK, Ha Chan Chinh, Le Dinh Quan, Nguyen Van Linh, Nguyen Van Thanh, Pham Trong Phuc, Nguyen Van Pha, Nguyen Van Viet, Hoang Van Hau. No explanation was given for several people having the same alias.

"These two (Thanh and Chung) were arrested trying to flee the country to escape prosecution. URA Customs is now on the hunt for 16 suspects still at large," the URA said.

The ring is said to have been operating in Uganda for the last three years.

Global trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after populations of the African pachyderms dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to around 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

Vietnam also outlawed the ivory trade in 1992, but the country remains a top market for ivory products which are prized locally for decorative purposes and for traditional medicine, despite there being no proof of its medicinal qualities.

Pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters, have also become critically endangered due to demand for their meat — considered a delicacy — and their scales, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat aliments from cancer to arthritis.

Of the 10 countries and territories with the largest number of pangolin trafficking incidents, seven were in Asia – China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Laos, and Indonesia – according to a 2017 study by wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic and Australia’s University of Adelaide.

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