KLIA Customs Deputy Director of Enforcement Abdull Wahid Sulong (centre) shows some of the Ploughshare and Indian Star tortoises. Pix by NURSYAHIRAH MARZUKI

SEPANG: The Royal Malaysian Customs Department of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) has thwarted the attempt to smuggle in exotic tortoises worth a staggering RM1.2 million.

The live animals, comprising five Ploughshare and 325 Indian Star tortoises, were packed in five boxes labelled as "Stones", registered with a fake business address in Salak Tinggi, Selangor.

Displaying the seized items at a press conference in the KLIA Customs Cargo Complex, Customs Deputy Director of Enforcement, Abdull Wahid Sulong said the department received a tip-off on the smuggling attempt yesterday and moved into action.

The live tortoises were smuggled into the country via Etihad Airways from Antananarivo Airport, Madagascar.

Usually kept as exotic pets, Ploughshare tortoises can be sold for USD4,000 (RM16,000) each in the domestic market.

The Indian Star tortoise, which is smaller in size, can be sold for USD1,000 (RM4,000) each.

"This is our first case involving the Indian Star and Ploughshare species. The tortoises that are usually smuggled into the country are the smaller Black Pond type," he said, adding that his department has recorded five cases involving smuggled tortoises since 2015.

"We had one case in 2015 and four cases in 2016. They were hand-carried and flown in from Dhaka."

Abdull Wahid said no arrests have been made so far and the case is still under investigation.

Import of exotic tortoises requires a special permit from the Malaysian Wildlife Department (Perhilitan). Under Section 135 (1) (a) of the Customs Act 1967, those found guilty of illegally importing them into the country can be fined a maximum of 20 times the value of the smuggled items, or face three years imprisonment, or both.

The smugglers are still at large and the Customs has pledged a handsome cash reward for those who step forward with valuable information.

Their hotline number is 1-800-88-8855.

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