Key wildlife smuggler gets 2.5 years in jail after rhino haul found

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Thai police take the finger prints of Boonchai Bach. Photo: AsiaWorks

A notorious Thai wildlife trafficker has been sentenced to two and a half years in jail after a shipment of rhino horns was found at Bangkok’s international airport late last year.

Boonchai Bach, 41, received the jail term from Samut Prakan Court this week after being found guilty of wildlife-related crimes.

Bach, 41, is part of a family from Nakhon Phanom in the far Northeast likened to the “Corleones” of wildlife trafficking by anti-smuggling group Freeland.

Thai police charged Bach with running a group that smuggled horns of endangered rhinos from Africa, reportedly worth $65,000 per kilogram, through Suvarnabhumi Airport in the Thai capital.

Wildlife Quarantine officer Nikorn Wongprajan was arrested at Suvarnabhumi on December 12 last year after he was caught concealing 11kg of rhino horn valued at $700,000 that had been smuggled from Africa by a Chinese smuggler.

Police and Customs officials collaborated to track the shipment to a family member of Boonchai Bach, who had planned to pick up the horn at the airport. He was also arrested and convicted.

The evidence ultimately pointed to Boonchai Bach as the financier, Freeland said in a statement yesterday. “The horn was destined for Northeast Thailand, where it would be smuggled across the Mekong River to Laos for onward shipment to buyers, either in Vietnam or China.”

Freeland provided training and analytical support to Thai authorities about Boonchai Bach. It said Bach’s illicit supply chain was part of a wider syndicate called “Hydra”, which allegedly has Boonchai as a senior member.

“The Suvarnabhumi Airport Police team should be strongly commended for making wildlife safer from this major wildlife criminal and his wider circle of poachers and traffickers,” Freeland chairman Kraisak Choonhavan said on Friday.

“This case doesn’t rest, however, and we look forward to seeing more positive actions develop out of this conviction.”

Bach was charged under the Thai Customs Act, plus the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act, and Animal Epidemics Act.

Freeland said the demand for rhino horn has escalated in recent years, especially in Asian countries. It was driven by a misunderstanding about medicinal properties and other factors, it said.

Read: Police announce arrest of notorious wildlife trafficking suspect

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