Thailand says $11M seized in wildlife trafficking sting

Thai police and anti-money laundering authorities say they have seized or frozen more than $11 million in assets in a sting operation against a suspected wildlife trafficking ring

BANGKOK -- Thailand's anti-money laundering authorities said Wednesday they have seized or frozen more than 330 million baht ($11 million) worth of assets in a sting operation against a suspected wildlife trafficking ring.

The March 12 operation targeted Boonchai Bach, a Vietnamese and Thai citizen who was arrested in 2018 but later got his conviction for trafficking in rhino horns and other contraband reversed.

Thai law gives police wide latitude to seize property that authorities suspect comes from illegal activities. They said they confiscated a hotel, vehicles, land and other assets and have frozen Boonchai's bank accounts.

It was not possible to immediately reach Boonchai for comment.

A senior Thai police official, Lt. Col. Teerapong Dulayawjian, said the Anti-Money Laundering Office was working with prosecutors in investigating the suspected laundering of profits from trading in endangered species.

Thailand and neighboring Laos are known to be major hubs for such trafficking, orchestrated by organized criminal syndicates.

After the earlier case against him was reversed, authorities followed up with the investigation into his wealth. Authorities worked with the Freeland Foundation, an international group that monitors wildlife trafficking, in conducting the sting operation.

Steve Galster, chair of the Freeland Foundation, said the action marked a breakthrough in efforts to hinder the illegal wildlife trade.

“It's like they cut off an arm and broke a leg,” of the suspected trafficking ring, he said.