/ 30 January 2019

Thai court dismisses case against poaching kingpin

Boonchai Bach
Boonchai Bach (Getty Images)

A Thai court has dismissed the case against convicted wildlife trafficking kingpin Boonchai Bach, sparking outrage from conservationists. Bach was arrested in January 2018 in connection with the smuggling of 14 rhino horns.

Bach was sentenced to 2.5 years prison for wildlife-related crimes in May last year. The same court that initially sentenced him last year, dismissed the case on Tuesday.

He was arrested after an airport official was caught removing rhino horn to the value of $700 000 from quarantine at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport. Police traced the shipment to Bach, who had planned to fetch the rhino horn at the airport.

Bach was found to be at the centre of a major poaching and smuggling syndicate and was charged under the Thai Customs Act, the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act, as well as the Animal Epidemics Act.

On Tuesday, the case was dismissed by a Thai judge at a provincial court, allegedly because of a lack of evidence.

Founder of anti-trafficking group Freeland, Steve Galster said the case unravelled after a key witness changed his testimony which implicated Bach in the crime.

Galster and other representatives from Freeland assisted with the investigation and testified during the trial.

“In the end, the case was low-profile and treated like a parking ticket,” Galster said, adding that the case “fell apart” when the prosecution’s only major witness “flipped” on the stand, reported AFP.

Freeland maintains that there is “adequate incriminating information” proving Bach is part of the far-reaching Southeast Asian crime syndicate known as “Hydra”.

The syndicate has been found smuggling elephant ivory, rhino horn as well as tiger parts, and selling them to Chinese and Vietnamese dealers.

The demand for rhino horn has increased in recent years, especially in Asian markets where a misapprehension of medicinal properties is driving the demand.

According to PoachTracker, live poaching statistic software designed by Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism, over 1 100 rhinos were confirmed poached in South Africa in 2018, with a further 200 suspected to have been poached.

Bach’s case is in line with other cases of poaching where traffickers have been prematurely released.

Last year’s early release of Thai trafficker Chumlong Lemtongthai from a Pretoria prison outraged conservationists after he served only six years of his 40-year sentence.

READ MORE: Fury at release of rhino ‘pseudo-hunt’ kingpin

In November 2012, Lemtongthai was sentenced to 40 years behind bars after he confessed to ordering up to 50 rhinos for hunting, and actively participating in the illegal killing of at least 26 rhino.