LETTERS: Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce (TRAFFIC), the wildlife trade monitoring network, congratulates the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) on the busting of an international pangolin-scale smuggling syndicate operating from Malaysia and the multiple arrests reported so far.
Since 2013, Malaysia has confiscated an estimated 55 tonnes of Asian and African pangolins (dead and alive) and their parts. About 45 per cent of this volume was scales.
Malaysia's largest seizure — about 29 tonnes — was in 2019 in a warehouse in Sabah. Yet there have been few arrests to show for it until now.
Part of the difficulty in tracking down the traffickers can be attributed to the bogus recipients and fake addresses authorities so often find on shipping documents accompanying the illicit goods.
The understanding here has also been that there is no real market or demand for pangolin scales in the country and that Malaysia's ports and airports are being used as transit points for illicit shipments headed elsewhere. These factors have left Malaysia puzzled at the volume of pangolin scales trafficked through the country and the frequency at which the country appears within a trade chain that sees massive volumes of pangolin scales move from Africa to Asia.
With the investigations taking on a follow-the-money trail focus, what MACC uncovers will go a long way towards lifting the veil over Malaysia's true role in pangolin trafficking.
As the almost two tonnes of scales MACC reported seizing in the operation are a significant stockpile for any criminal to have at their disposal, the investigation could help fill in many blanks about links between seized shipments and the consolidation and resale of scales that originated abroad. It also has the potential to reveal the scale of the criminal network, the extent of its reach and all the operators involved, including logistics and transportation companies, which are often hidden players operating behind the scenes.
Investigations will bring to light the illegal money flows and favours that made the trafficking possible, and for this reason, we're encouraged by MACC taking the lead in investigations. Wildlife crime is a serious crime that goes beyond biodiversity loss.
But most importantly for Malaysia, the investigation promises to spotlight the loopholes, means and methods that traffickers have used to land Malaysia the unfortunate title of wildlife trafficking hotspot. It will make clearer the problems that must be addressed to reverse that image. It could be a game-changer in Malaysia's fight against wildlife crime.
With this in mind, we urge MACC to continue to investigate and prosecute offenders to the full extent of the law. And to carry on the cross-border intelligence sharing and cooperation that have enabled this enforcement success. Transboundary wildlife trafficking can only be genuinely curbed through international collaboration.
Pangolins are among the most trafficked mammal species in the world, and Malaysia has long played a significant role in the global illegal trade of this species. It may be just one syndicate smashed, but it promises answers to some pivotal questions and the chance to do better for the species.
Director, TRAFFIC, Southeast Asia
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times