Sellers on local online marketplaces offer illegal amulets made from animal parts
The New Paper 19 Oct 16;
These small trinkets carry big hopes for those who seek them.
They promise wealth, protection, business success and even sexual attraction to those who acquire these Thai amulets or similar items with "magical" properties.
You will not see such amulets displayed in shops here because it is illegal to sell or buy them.
But go online and you will find these exotic charms, made from the parts of protected animals such as the tiger, leopard cat, crocodile and python, readily offered by sellers, The New Paper discovered.
Mr Ricardo Choo, a businessman who has been trading in amulets for over a decade, told TNP that the illegal trade went underground after a crackdown by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) several years ago.
Said Mr Choo: "Of course, you can still buy them, because these shops know their regulars and will show them what's not on display."
AGAINST THE LAW
When TNP checked with 10 amulet shops in the Golden Mile and Chinatown areas, all of them said they did not deal in contraband amulets.
They said it was against the law to trade in such amulets, which are also known as animal Takruts.
On the flip side, online amulet peddlers brazenly display photographs of their wares and their contact details
TNP saw close to 50 online posts for items containing protected animal parts on Facebook and online marketplaces Carousell and Gumtree.
This is despite Carousell having a policy against the promotion of items involving protected wildlife.
Nine sellers in Carousell were ready to meet a reporter who posed as an interested buyer.
The banned amulets are also sold, auctioned or rented out in members-only online groups.
Mr Choo, who published a book titled The Spirit & Voodoo World of Thailand in 2011, said: "During my travels to Thailand, I was told that people buying these non-mainstream (amulets) are basically from Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore.
"When something is banned, there's always a market for it."
The amulets or items that are said to contain magical powers can cost between $60 and $4,500.
While most of them originate from Thailand, others also come from Indonesia or Cambodia.
They are often referred to as "barang", Malay slang for "spiritual thing".
Typically, the amulets, which the sellers claim have been blessed by famous Thai monks, feature sacred scriptures wrapped in tiger or snake skin and are encased in plastic tubes smaller than an adult's palm.
Parts from cats and tigers are used in the amulets as they are believed to give the owners a sixth sense or make them feared.
Others sell animal parts strictly for business. Among the prohibited parts sold are tiger claws, teeth and skin, and elephant molars, tusks and tail hairs.
One online seller, who gave his name as John, insisted that the tiger claw and skin he advertised on Carousell were genuine.
He offered to sell a piece of tiger skin the size of a small book for $150.
The chief abbot of a Thai Buddhist temple in Singapore told TNP that people should not confuse culture with religion.
Phrakhru Udom of Wat Uttamayanmuni in Choa Chu Kang said: "Buddhism has nothing to do with these things (amulets and charms). They are all cultural beliefs."
He said amulets were traditionally made in the past to remind people of their Buddhist masters' teachings.
Hence, they were designed in the image of the Buddha, temples or religious figures.
The abbot said, tongue-in-cheek: "If these things work as claimed, then you don't need security, you don't need to work. With an amulet, you can become rich."
When something is banned, there's always a market for it.
- Mr Ricardo Choo, a businessman who has been trading in amulets for over a decade
AVA: Permit needed for amulets with animal parts
An AVA spokesman told The New Paper in an e-mail reply that it had received applications for Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) permits to import elephant-hair bracelets and crocodile teeth as lucky charms and amulets.
In 1986, Singapore became a signatory to Cites, an international agreement ensuring trade does not threaten wildlife species with extinction.
The spokesman added: "We have zero tolerance on the use of Singapore as a conduit to trade in endangered species and their parts.
"Any illegally acquired or imported products that contain or purport to contain endangered species detected will be seized.".
Unfortunately, the trade in tiger parts continues, said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, regional director for South-east Asia at Traffic, a non-governmental organisation that monitors wildlife trade.
Dr Shepherd told TNP in an e-mail that wild tiger populations have been badly affected by poaching and illegal trade.
He said: "Online trade exacerbates illegal trade and provides a serious challenge to enforcement agencies. Also worrying is the fact that in these online forums, many of the underlying beliefs that drive the trade are left unchallenged."
But offenders have been caught in Singapore.
Since 2010, AVA has handled about 56 cases of illegally imported wildlife used in amulets originating from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Africa
That year, 358 pieces of amulets allegedly made of tiger teeth, claws and skin were seized in 39 cases, with the offenders fined between $300 and $3,000.
Last year, there were six cases in which 37 pieces of amulets consisting of monkey bones, leopard and tiger claws, and seal skin were seized. The offenders were fined between $500 and $5,000.
Under the Endangered Species Act, trading of Cites-listed specimens without a permit is an offence which carries a fine of up to $50,000 per specimen, or a jail term of up to two years, or both.
The same penalties apply if anyone is caught advertising or selling illegal wildlife or their parts on the Internet.
Thai spiritual master smuggles animal charms into Singapore with soft toys
Thai spiritual master tells NGO he has powerful charms made from human foetuses, skulls and tiger cubs
The New Paper 20 Oct 16;
He proudly poses with his handiwork on Facebook.
Using the name Arjan Pheimrung Wanchanna, he displays for sale items such as snake and animal skin amulets, little monkey skulls, crocodile heads and other charms.
This man is one of the many Thai Arjans, or spiritual masters, who visit Singapore regularly to perform blessings and spiritual tattooing.
However, his use of animal parts in amulets has put him in the crosshairs of counter-trafficking organisation, Global Eye.
Arjan Pheimrung Wanchanna is among many Thai spiritual masters who visit Singapore regularly to perform blessings and spiritual tattooing.
What was even more shocking was Arjan Pheim's offer of more powerful charms.
In an exclusive interview, Global Eye operatives told The New Paper that Arjan Pheim had claimed that he could smuggle human foetuses, dead tiger cubs and adult skull fragments into Singapore.
Posing as interested buyers, the operatives met the Thai in a hotel room at Joo Chiat Road in March this year.
They secretly recorded the meeting, during which Arjan Pheim said in Thai: "I can guarantee. I have shipped (contraband wildlife and human parts) to Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and China."
He also showed them pictures of his illegal merchandise on his mobile phone (which has been reproduced in a TNP video clip).
He also had images of a wet-looking tiger cub in a translucent pail and what looked to be a complete leopard skin.
More disturbing were pictures of a dried human-like foetus with the eyes and tiny fingers clearly visible. He later showed other samples of "ready-to-sell" foetuses wrapped in gold leaf.
The trafficking of wildlife and the smuggling of human parts are illegal in Singapore.
Global Eye chief executive officer Fiachra Kearney told TNP that traders such as Arjan Pheim not only destroy animal species, but "also destroy our dignity as human beings".
Mr Kearney said: "The Arjans kill and mutilate beautiful animals in the name of spiritual benefit, and how the drying of human beings benefits our collective spiritual well-being is something I can never understand.
"I imagine many Singaporeans would be deeply disturbed to know that these Arjans are entering their country and selling these items."
TNP learnt of Arjan Pheim's visits to Singapore late last year. Our investigations revealed that some Singaporeans and local amulet shops had promoted his illicit merchandise on their Facebook and Carousell pages.
A recent photo from Arjan Pheimrung Wanchanna's WeChat account showing dead tiger cubs to be made into charms.
We also found posts offering to sell dried female genitalia, or what is known as Yoni, and oil purportedly made from a female corpse.
TNP alerted the Singapore authorities, as well as Global Eye when other visiting Arjans were also found to be touting similar banned charms.
Arjan Pheim even told the undercover operatives that his products are illegal in both Thailand and Singapore.
Describing how he would smuggle a dead tiger cub into Singapore, he said: "You pack it with toys. It's all right. Lukok size is small. Not big size."
Claiming to have two dead tiger cubs, also known as tiger lukok, Arjan Pheim said that each would cost 70,000 baht (S$2,700).
The operatives left the meeting with samples of animal skin amulets.
In Thailand, the use of human foetuses for occult purposes is not uncommon, a senior police officer in Chiang Mai told TNP during a telephone interview in June.
Major-General Pacha Rattanapan said he once investigated a case of four dead foetuses found near a temple in 2015 following the arrest of a man.
He said that the foetuses were usually acquired from abortion clinics, adding: "After a woman has an abortion, the remainder (foetus) is then thrown away, and there are people who will purchase them to make Kuman Thongs (child spirits)."
He said the trading of foetuses is "illegal under Thai laws" because it is similar to concealing a corpse and not declaring a death.
The chief abbot of a Thai temple in Singapore said the Arjans' activities are not related to Buddhism.
Said Phrakhru Udom of Uttamayanmuni Buddhist Temple in Choa Chu Kang: "Arjans are not part of the Buddhist Sangha (community). Nowadays, there are a lot of cari makan (Malay for profiteering) Arjans."
Mr Ricardo Choo, who authored The Spirit & Voodoo World of Thailand in 2011, said Arjans come to Singapore because there is a lucrative market.
He told TNP: "The cost price (of a human foetus) is $2,000. Some people are willing to pay $4,000 to $5,000 in Singapore."
TNP understands that during his time in Singapore, Arjan Pheim was preparing four dead tiger cubs to be sold as "good luck charms".
He did not respond to TNP's request for an interview.
Smuggling in human parts is against the law
It is illegal to smuggle human parts into Singapore.
Shipping restrictions exist for human remains, including ashes, which have been classified as prohibited items for import into Singapore, said the Singapore Post website.
A permit is required from the National Environment Agency to transfer human remains from overseas to Singapore for cremation or burial.
But Arjan Pheimrung Wanchanna's purpose for bringing human parts here is not for burial - they are to be used as powerful charms.
He admitted to previously smuggling amulets made from protected wildlife and human parts like foetuses and skull bones into the region, including Singapore.
Doing so is illegal, lawyer S. Balamurugan told The New Paper.
He said: "There is a dearth of cases relating specifically to the smuggling and sale of human body parts, but this has been addressed in the Human Biomedical Research Act 2015, which prohibits the commercial trading of human tissue under Section 32.
"Nevertheless, the buying or selling of human organs or human blood is currently prohibited under section 14 of the Human Organ Transplant Act (Hota)."
Anyone found guilty of breaching Hota can be fined up to $100,000 or jailed up to 10 years, or both.
The snake and supposed "tiger" skin amulets, which Arjan Pheim gave to the two undercover operatives from Global Eye, were surrendered to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore.
Tests showed that the skin samples were from a leopard cat and a reticulated python. Both are protected species.
Anyone found possessing, selling or advertising endangered species which have been imported without a permit faces a fine of up to $50,000 per specimen (with a maximum of $500,000) and/or a jail sentence of up to two years.
The same penalties apply if netizens are caught advertising or selling illegal wildlife - whether real or fake - on the Internet.
What Arjan Pheim said about his amulets
Arjan ("spiritual master") Pheimrung Wanchanna made these claims while speaking in Thai to Global Eye operatives in a hotel room in Joo Chiat Road
Tiger gives you more authority or leadership. Small or big (amulet), it's the same.
I can guarantee. I have shipped (contraband wildlife and human parts) to Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and China.
On how long it takes to process and deliver a tiger lukok, or encased tiger cub:
From the time I get the tiger, seven days later, I (ship) it out.
Referring to the amulets he had brought in from Chiang Mai, Thailand:
This one (snake and tiger amulet) is also illegal here.
Other Arjans also sell (tiger cub lukok). Other Arjans also do.
Sellers on local online marketplaces offer illegal amulets made from animal parts