Malaysia: Customs seizes 330 tortoises worth RM1.2mil at KLIA

JO TIMBUONG The Star 15 May 17;

SEPANG: The Customs Department intercepted a smuggling attempt involving more than 330 tortoises valued at RM1.2mil at the KL International Airport on Sunday.

Acting on a tip-off, a team of officers searched the air cargo warehouse at the Free Commercial Zone and found five boxes containing suitcases.

They found 325 Indian Star tortoises and five Ploughshare tortoises wrapped in moist pouches in the suitcases.

The tortoises were found alive and are believed to have been sedated.

The cargo arrived from Antananarivo Airport in Madagascar declared as "stones".

The fake address on the airway bill was a shop supposedly located in Salak Tinggi here.

Customs Enforcement Division deputy director Abdull Wahid Sulong said it was the first time that they found tortoises smuggled via air cargo.

"We've had five similar cases since 2015 and smugglers usually either hand carry or smuggle them through the post," he said.

Abdull Wahid said the Ploughshare tortoises could fetch US$4,000 (about RM17,339) each while the Indian Star species could sell for US$1,000 (about RM 4,334) each on the black market.

"These tortoises would normally be kept as exotic pets but we aren't able to determine whether they are destined for that or for traditional medicine," he said.

330 exotic tortoises smuggled in via suitcases
JO TIMBUONG The Star 16 May 17;

SEPANG: Quick action by the Royal Malaysian Customs saved 330 tortoises from being encased in glass tanks by local exotic pet enthusiasts.

On Sunday, the department’s enforcement team intercepted the smuggling of Ploughshare and Indian Star tortoises, estimated to be valued at RM1.2mil, at KLIA.

Acting on a tip-off, a Customs en­forcement team searched the air cargo warehouse at the Free Com­mercial Zone here and found five boxes, each containing a suitcase.

Upon further investigation, en­­for­cement officers found 325 Indian Star tortoises and five Plougshare tortoises wrapped in moistened pouches inside the suitcases.

The illegal cargo came in from Antananarivo Airport, Madagascar, and were supposed to be passed off as “stones”, according to the airway bill. The bill also bore a fake address of a shop allegedly located in Salak Tinggi.

All the tortoises were alive and believed to have been sedated.

Customs deputy director of enforcement Abdull Wahid Sulong said this was the first time the tortoises were smuggled through air cargo in large numbers.

“We’ve had five similar cases since 2015 and smugglers either bring them in smaller quantities through hand carry luggages or smuggle them through post,” he told repor­ters yesterday.

Abdull Wahid believed the tortoises were to be sold in the local black market.

Ploughshare tortoises could fetch US$4,000 (RM17,341) each while the Indian Star species could sell for US$1,000 (RM4,335) each.

“Since we found them alive, they were most probably destined for the exotic pet market,” he said.

The department could not say if a syndicate was behind the smuggling.

“It is difficult to pin-point at the time being and arrests have yet to be made,” Abdull Wahid said.

The case is being investigated un­der Section 135(1) (a) of the Customs Act 1967 for importing prohibited items as it is illegal to import tortoises without a permit.

Ploughshares are native to Madagascar while Indian Stars can be found in India and Sri Lanka.

Both species are listed as endangered. They will be handed over to the Department of Wildlife and Natural Parks of Peninsular Malaysia.

Meanwhile, a 35-year-old trader from Tamil Nadu, India, was sentenced by a Sessions Court here to two years’ jail for keeping 20 black pond turtles.

Bakrudin Ali Ahamed Habeeb admitted to two counts of keeping 10 female and 10 male black pond turtles (Geoclemys Hamiltonii) without a special permit at a hotel room in Lorong Ceylon at 5.40pm on May 9.

He also admitted to another charge of keeping the 20 turtles inside three suitcases, thus causing pain and suffering to the turtles.

Sessions Court judge Harmi Tham­ri Mohamad @ Shaharudin sentenced Bakrudin to 24 months in jail for keeping the female turtles, 12 months for keeping the male turtles and three months for causing them pain and suffering. The sentences will run concurrently.