Customs officials in Sihanoukville on Friday seized 128 pieces of ivory weighing more than 600 kg from a container that had been sitting in the city’s port for more than two years.
Kin Ly, the head of the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port’s customs and excise department, said the 613-kg haul was discovered hidden among grains of corn when the container was finally opened at about 8:30 a.m.
“There are 41 cut pieces and 87 tusks. It was embedded in corn from the African continent,” Mr. Ly said.
According to Mr. Ly, the container was sent to the BTM Trade and Construction company, which is based in Kandal province’s Takhmao City, and arrived at the port in January 2014 after being shipped from Africa in November 2013, although he did not know from which country.
Representatives from the company could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Ly said officials had left the container unopened for more than two years because they were waiting for the owners to come claim it. However, after numerous invitations to the company to collect the container went unanswered, the decision was made to open it in the presence of customs officials and provincial prosecutor Lim Bunheng.
“The products arrived, we issued invitations and made announcements, but no one showed up to clear the products…. That’s why today we cooperated with a prosecutor to work on this,” he said.
This discovery comes after more than 3 tons of ivory—the country’s largest-ever ivory haul—was discovered concealed inside two containers of beans at the Sihanoukville port after being scanned by customs officials in May 2014. In February, the provincial court provisionally laid charges against the director of the Reho Both company for his alleged role in smuggling the ivory, which is still being held at the port.
Asked why the container belonging to BTM Trade and Construction had not been scanned, Mr. Ly again claimed he was waiting for the arrival of the owners, who he believes became fearful after the huge haul was seized in May 2014.
“After we seized [the haul in 2014], the owner of this one was afraid to come and left it at the port since then,” he said.
Mr. Ly said he was certain that Cambodia was not the final destination for the ivory, although he was unsure exactly what market its smugglers intended it for.
“As you know, there is no market for it in Cambodia. Even rich people in Cambodia don’t use it,” Mr. Ly said.
Huot Vicheat, a spokesman for the provincial court, said the case was in the hands of an investigating judge, who had yet to make a decision on how to proceed.
In 2014, customs officials claimed that smugglers were increasingly looking toward Cambodia as a conduit for transporting ivory from Africa to China and Vietnam as a result of then-Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s 2013 vow to crack down on the illegal trade.
The demand for ivory in Asia is driving a surge in elephant poaching in Africa, resulting in tens of thousands of elephants being slaughtered in the continent every year.