Officials seize nearly 300 pieces of illegal ivory

Authorities pose with some of the more than 200 elephant tusks seized during a bust at the Sihanoukville port yesterday.
Authorities pose with some of the more than 200 elephant tusks seized during a bust at the Sihanoukville port yesterday. Photo supplied

Nearly a tonne of smuggled elephant ivory was uncovered late on Tuesday at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port by Cambodian and US officials after waiting for a year to be claimed by a company linked to a similar bust last year, officials said yesterday.

Lem Bunheng, deputy prosecutor for the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court, who facilitated the operation, said 279 elephant tusks were found inside containers that had been imported from Mozambique by Cam Transit Import. The ivory was hidden inside 22 hollowed-out timber posts inside two of three containers.

Bunheng said according to the provincial customs and excise report, the containers arrived on December 16, 2016. After scanners identified suspicious materials in the goods, officials on May 30 sent a letter to the company asking it to show up at the port to fill out paperwork to take the goods, but no company representative ever came.

“In the three containers, we . . . discovered 22 long, squared timber [posts] and they were very suspicious,” he said. “After cutting the timber open, authorities found 279 elephant tusks, [weighing] 941.41 kilograms.”

The tusks were put back inside the containers, which were then impounded at a safe place in order to keep them as evidence, Bunheng said.

David Josar, spokesman at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, said the embassy’s “Department of Homeland Security office worked closely with Cambodian officials to inspect the shipment and inventory the nearly 300 pieces of ivory that were discovered”.

“This is the second major shipment of illicit wildlife items we have cooperated with [Cambodian authorities on] over the past year,” he wrote in an email. “We congratulate Cambodia for their top-notch investigative work in recovering this shipment.”

Bunheng said experts are now investigating to find the person behind the smuggling in order to take further action.

Cam Transit Import was responsible for transporting 1.3 tonnes of similarly smuggled elephant ivory uncovered by customs officials in Phnom Penh last December. At the time officials said the wood in which the ivory was hidden was set to be delivered to another company in Cambodia, Sar Ho Logistics.

In October 2016, Cam Transit Import was also involved in a bust of nearly a tonne of ivory in Vietnam. Last year, Wildlife Alliance said the 1.3 tonnes found in Phnom Penh was owned by Nguyen Tien Chuong, an allegation confirmed by a customs agent.

Wildlife Alliance declined to comment yesterday.

Kun Nhem, general director of the Customs and Excise Department, could not be reached for comment yesterday. But according to a customs official who took part in Tuesday’s operation and requested anonymity, Cam Transit Import is associated with Sar Ho Logistics. “We are continuing to investigate to find the owner to take further procedures,” he said.

Cam Transit Import could not be reached yesterday, and the owner of Sar Ho Logistics referred questions to the person in charge of the company’s operations, identified only as Mary.

She initially agreed to answer questions by email, but after an enquiry was sent, she responded saying she did not to know about the case.

Updated: Thursday 7 December, 6:58am