Thai Police arrest wildlife trafficking kingpin

Thai police caught one of the biggest fish in the criminal business of trafficking wildlife and endangered species last week, arresting a man they described as the suspected kingpin of a transnational syndicate named Hydra responsible for smuggling large quantities of poached elephant ivory, rhino horn, pangolins, tigers, lions, and other rare and endangered species for more than a decade.

“This arrest is a significant for many reasons,” said Police Colonel Chutrakul Yodmadee. “The confiscated items are high in value. And we are able to arrest the whole network involved, starting from the courier, the facilitator, and the exporter who planned to export goods through the Thai-Laos border. We even got the moneyman behind the gang.”

Bach Van Minh, also known as “Boonchai Bach”, was being held for allegedly trafficking of 14 rhino horns from Africa into Thailand in early December 2017. A Vietnamese national, he also holds Thai citizenship. According to Freeland, an independent organization working to end wildlife and human trafficking, Bach is a leading member of the Bach family, named by The Guardian newspaper as Asia’s “top wildlife crime family.”

The Back family has long run the international supply chain of illicit wildlife from Asia and Africa to major dealers in Laos, Vietnam and China, including to the notorious Vixay Keosavang.  The New York Times described Keosavang, based in Laos, as Southeast Asia’s biggest illegal wildlife dealer. Bach was his main supplier.

“The security officers of Suvarnabhumi Airport, Suvarnabhumi Airport Police Station, Thai Customs and Immigration Police at Nakhon Phanom are to be congratulated for breaking open the country’s largest wildlife crime case, ever,” said Steven Galster, Founder of Freeland who has been following Hydra since 2003. We hope Thailand, its neighboring countries, and counterparts in Africa will build on this arrest and tear Hydra apart.”

The Thai police and Freeland have been collaborating on an investigation into Hydra for several years. Between 2014-2016, Freeland and Thai authorities accelerated their analysis of Hydra, focusing on the heart of its logistics. That allowed them to identify many of its members and subsidiaries.

Freeland said Thai police requested a new briefing on Hydra last week, and that helped unlockfresh evidence that led police to issue an arrest warrant for Boonchai who was captured less than 24 hours later in Nakorn Phanom, a Thai province adjacent to Laos.

Thailand’s war on trafficking has gained strength over the past decade because of a solid commitment by Thai authorities to take down traffickers, and also because of partnerships and collaborations with groups such as Freeland, neighboring countries and the United States.

With the assistance of the United States, Thailand played a key role in forming ASEAN-WEN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – Wildlife Enforcement Network), which has made important strides regionally in the fight against wildlife trafficking.