Cambodian Officials Unaware of Thai Rhino Horn Smuggler

Authorities in Cambodia yesterday said they had no knowledge of a Thai woman who reportedly flew through Phnom Penh last week with millions of dollars in contraband rhinoceros horns that were eventually seized in Bangkok.

The Bangkok Post reported on Wednesday that a 46-year-old woman, identified only as Thitirat, arrived at the city’s main airport on a March 10 flight from Phnom Penh. Thai officials reportedly said she was seen with another woman who had just arrived from Vietnam, but both fled after they saw their luggage being scanned.

A Thai customs of cer examines rhino horns, among a 50 kg haul seized last Friday, during a news conference at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok on Tuesday. (Reuters)

About 50 kg of horns with an estimated value of $5 million were found inside their luggage, officials said.

Leang Hay, chief of customs at Phnom Penh International Airport, said yesterday that his staff was not aware of the woman’s transit through Cambodia and could not find any record of anyone using the name mentioned in media reports.

He said they were searching for the woman’s full name in order to conduct a more thorough search of their records, but had not been asked for help by Thai authorities.

Cambodia is often tipped off by foreign governments, typically the U.S., before successfully intercepting smugglers flying through the country. Un Vannarith, deputy chief of the Forestry Administration’s Phnom Penh office, said his staff received no notice on this occasion.

Cambodia has proved a popular route for traffickers moving animal parts from Africa to Asia, usually on to Laos, Vietnam or China. Suwanna Gauntlett, Cambodia country director for the NGO Wildlife Alliance, said the route taken by the Thai woman was “very unusual.”

In August, a Chinese man traveling from Nairobi was nabbed at the Phnom Penh airport with about 4.4 kg of rhinoceros horns. In November, a Chinese woman was arrested at the airport carrying 35 kg of cut rhino horns valued at up to $7 million. Authorities said the woman had arrived from South Africa and the horns were likely destined for China.

In December, more than a ton of African elephant ivory, 137 kg of pangolin scales and seven cheetah skulls were among the animal parts found hidden in a shipment of timber from Mozambique in one of the largest seizures of its kind on record in Cambodia.

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