REPTILE SMUGGLER EXTRADITED TO
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
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.