WASHINGTON — A two-year effort to extradite a reputed

international wildlife smuggling kingpin ended last night when the

Mexican government turned over to the United States Keng Liang

“Anson” Wong, 42, of Penang, Malaysia. Wong faces trial in San

Francisco on federal charges that he spearheaded an international

wildlife smuggling ring, which successfully smuggled about 300

protected animals to the United States by concealing them in Federal

Express packages, airline baggage and other shipments.

Wong was transported last night from Mexico City to San

Francisco. He is scheduled to appear today before U.S. Magistrate

Joseph C. Spero in San Francisco.

Between 1995 and 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

conducted an undercover investigation of Wong and his Malaysian

wildlife import-export business, Sungai Rusa Wildlife. During the

investigation, the Service documented 14 illegal shipments by Wong

into the United States from Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines,

containing protected reptiles worth nearly a half million dollars.

In July 1998, a federal grand jury indicted Wong on 51 federal

charges related to his alleged wildlife smuggling enterprise. In

September 1998, an undercover USFWS agent posing as a reptile

trafficker lured Wong to Mexico City, where he was arrested by the

Government of Mexico on the U.S. charges and incarcerated pending

extradition to this country.

Wong fought the extradition process for nearly two years until,

on June 16, he filed papers in the Mexican courts seeking to

terminate his extradition fight.

Wong is charged in San Francisco with conspiracy, smuggling,

money laundering, making false statements, and violating federal

wildlife statutes that prohibit trafficking in animals that are

protected by federal or international law. Wong also was indicted by

a federal grand jury in Florida in 1992 on wildlife smuggling

charges, but he never appeared in the United States to answer those


Wong and his associates are alleged to have employed a variety

of schemes to clandestinely transport protected animals to the United

States, such as using a human courier who concealed wildlife in

airline baggage; sending animals concealed in fraudulently labeled

Federal Express shipments; and concealing illegal animals within

large commercial shipments of legal animals. The smuggling ring

trafficked in several reptile species that are extremely endangered

in the wild, including the Komodo Dragon and the rarest tortoise

species on Earth, the Madagascan Spurred Tortoise, also known as the

Plowshare Tortoise.

Of the approximately 300 animals allegedly smuggled into the

United States, 38 of them are listed as “endangered” or its

equivalent under both U.S. law and the international wildlife treaty

called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of

Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES. The Plowshare Tortoise is of

particular concern because about 70 animals were stolen in 1996 from

a breeding project in their native country of Madagascar and became

the subject of an intense search by both law enforcement officials

worldwide and international wildlife preservation groups.

Authorities in the Netherlands are believed to have recovered some of

the stolen animals.

In the Florida case, Wong allegedly conspired to smuggle

endangered Fiji banded iguanas, Bengal monitor lizards, and Indian

soft-shelled turtles into the United States from Malaysia for sale to

a reptile dealer in Florida.

Charged with Wong in the San Francisco case are James

Michael Burroughs, of San Francisco, Calif.; Beau Lee Lewis, of

Buckeye, Ariz.; Jeffery Charles Miller, of Mesa, Ariz.; Robert G.

Paluch, of Mesa, Ariz., and Yuk Wah “Oscar” Shiu, of Hong Kong,

China. Burroughs has pleaded guilty to several charges and awaits

sentencing; Wong’s other co-defendants currently await trial.

“Today’s surrender of Anson Wong, which was preceded by

cooperation in his arrest and favorable decisions by the Mexican

Government regarding his extradition, reflect an unprecedented level

of coordination between the United States and Mexico and among

federal officials in both countries,” said Lois J. Schiffer,

Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources.

“I’m proud of the results of that hard work. Together, we will stop

those who want to get rich quick by trafficking in endangered


According to INTERPOL, the value of illegally traded

wildlife is approximately $6 billion annually. This trade contributes

directly to the extinction of protected species. The CITES treaty, of

which the United States, Mexico and 149 other countries are

signatories, is the principal international tool for regulating

cross-border trade in species threatened with extinction. Rare

species are prized by underground reptile dealers and collectors

alike. The scarcity of a particular species often is reflected by

the price it commands.

The maximum penalties for the money laundering offenses are 20

years imprisonment and/or a $500,000 fine; the remaining charges each

carry a maximum of five years imprisonment and/or $250,000 fine.

An indictment is a formal allegation that one or more persons

has violated federal criminal law. Every defendant is presumed

innocent until, and unless, proven guilty.

The arrests resulted from cooperative efforts by the Justice

Department, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Fish and

Wildlife Service, the U.S. Customs Service, INTERPOL and the Royal

Canadian Mounted Police in Canada.

The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for

the Northern District of California and the Wildlife and Marine

Resources Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural

Resources Division. No trial date has been scheduled.