Malaysian prosecutors seek harsher sentence for ‘Lizard King’ to deter wildlife trafficking

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Malaysian officials appeal ‘Lizard King’ sentence

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian prosecutors filed an appeal Wednesday against a six-month jail sentence of a notorious wildlife trader convicted of smuggling endangered snakes, saying the penalty was insufficient to deter wildlife trafficking.

Anson Wong, known as the “Lizard King,” was fined 190,000 ringgit ($60,000) and sentenced to six months’ in prison Monday for exporting 95 live boa constrictors without a permit. Wong’s bag broke open on a conveyer belt at the country’s main airport on Aug. 26 while he was on his way to neighboring Indonesia.

Wildlife groups have criticized the sentence, saying it failed to reflect Malaysia’s seriousness in tackling wildlife trafficking. Wong, 52, had faced a maximum jail term of seven years and up to 1 million ringgit ($319 million) in fine.

“We are disappointed. The sentence is too lenient for someone who is smuggling out protected species,” Abdul Majid Hamzah, prosecution chief at the attorney-general’s chambers, told The Associated Press. “We cannot take this lightly as it reflects very badly on Malaysia.”

Abdul Majid called for a tougher penalty to ensure the country doesn’t become a wildlife trafficking hub. The appeal will be heard by the High Court, which is expected to set a date soon, he said.

Malaysian airport authorities said they were investigating how Wong managed to board a flight from the northern resort island of Penang to Kuala Lumpur with a suitcase full of snakes. The boa constrictors, along with two viper snakes and a turtle, were hidden in containers wrapped in cloth in his luggage bag.

Wong, a Malaysian national, has already served jail time for wildlife trafficking in the United States. In 2001, a U.S. court sentenced him to almost six years in prison for running an animal-smuggling ring that prosecutors said imported and sold more than 300 protected reptiles native to Asia and Africa. Wong had also been arrested in Mexico in 1998.

Activists had urged the court to impose the maximum penalty of seven years in jail for Wong, who moved back to Malaysia following his return from the U.S.

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