An Agriculture Ministry official was arrested in New York — and the Forestry Administration’s director is also wanted — for a U.S. felony indictment over smuggling long-tailed macaques.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida issued a statement overnight saying Masphal Kry, the Forestry Administration’s deputy director of wildlife and biodiversity, was arrested on Wednesday at John F. Kennedy International Airport, leading to the unsealing of an indictment against an alleged wild monkey smuggling ring.
The indictment charges two officials of the Forestry Administration as well as six members of a “major primate supply organization,” including its owner and general manager.
Forestry Administration director Keo Omaliss is the second of the two Agriculture Ministry officials charged.
If convicted, each defendant faces up to five years in prison on the charge of conspiracy, and up to 20 years on seven smuggling charges, the statement said.
“Masphal KRY, a government official for the Cambodian Forestry Administration, will face justice in America as he was arrested today for his role in an alleged conspiracy to unlawfully import contrary to United States law and is purported to be involved in the importation of non-human primates, specifically long-tail macaques from Southeast Asia into the United States,” said Homeland Security Investigations officer Ricky Patel in the statement.
The eight suspects are alleged to have captured wild long-tailed macaques in national parks and protected areas and laundered them through Cambodian entities to export them to the U.S. falsely labeled as captive bred.
There was a collection quota of 3,000 “unofficial” monkeys allowed, for which Agriculture Ministry officials received cash payments, the U.S. statement says.
The indictment includes 31 incidents of meetings, financial transactions and shipments of hundreds of macaques to Florida and Texas under false documents and to a facility in Pursat, it says, naming a company Vanny Bio Research.
The alleged crimes span from December 2017 to September this year, and was the result of a multiyear investigation involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Edward Grace said the investigation “exposes the large-scale illegal laundering of wild long-tailed macaques for use in biomedical and pharmaceutical research.”
“The macaque is already recognized as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature,” added Juan Gonzalez, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “The practice of illegally taking them from their habitat to end up in a lab is something we need to stop. Greed should never come before responsible conservation. Cases like this put us in a position where we can make a difference.”
Agriculture Ministry spokesperson Im Rachana said the ministry would soon make a statement about the case.
“Although the Cambodian official has been arrested, he is still not guilty as long as they find clear evidence to exculpate him,” Rachana said.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Chum Sounry said the ministry was aware of the indictment but did not yet have any official information. Omaliss, the Forestry Administration director, could not be reached.
A foreign man who answered the phone for Vanny Bio Research on Thursday morning passed the phone to a Khmer-speaking man who said their business was legal.
The U.S. statement named the defendants as Forestry Administration officials Masphal and Omaliss; Vanny Bio Research owner James Man Sang Lau, 64; Vanny Resources general manager Dickson Lau, 29; and Vanny employees Sunny Chan, Raphael Cheung Man, 71, Sarah Yeung and Hing Ip Chung, 61, in both Hong Kong and Phnom Penh.
Vanny Bio Research was incorporated in 2002, and was also accused in 2008 of capturing thousands of wild monkeys and keeping them in inhumane conditions.
Masphal, the arrested official, is Cambodia’s representative for CITES — or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
U.K.-based primate protection group Action for Primates has said that according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department figures, 17,000 long-tailed macaques were exported by Cambodia to the U.S. in 2021.
Action for Primates has previously raised the alarm over macaques from Cambodian being exported for research and toxicity testing, saying the species is classified as “vulnerable” with a decreasing population.