A search of the luggage of a 31-year-old Chinese man arriving in Phnom Penh uncovered more than 4 kg of rhinoceros horns that a wildlife NGO valued at more than $400,000 on the Chinese market, where it is coveted as a status symbol, officials said.
The man, Weng Zhiyong, 31, was traveling from Namibia but arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport on Sunday afternoon on a Qatar Airlines flight that originated in Doha, Cambodian customs authorities and immigration police said.
It was the same flight on which a Romanian was caught traveling with nearly 5 kg of cocaine valued at more than $500,000, according to airport immigration records. Mr. Weng was arrested at 4:30 p.m. after Cambodian authorities searched his luggage.
“We decided to check the target after we learned what country he’d been traveling from,” said Leang Hay, chief of customs at the airport. “Previously, we’ve arrested people—mostly Chinese and Vietnamese—carrying rhinoceros horns.”
The seizure—eight pieces of horn weighing 4.38 kg—was the fifth major seizure of rhino horn at a Cambodian airport since 2012, Mr. Hay said.
This particular seizure would be worth between $400,000 to $800,000 in China, its probable final destination, where it is used in medicine and flaunted as a status symbol, said Thomas Gray, science director for Wildlife Alliance, an anti-trafficking NGO.
“Our current understanding of the black market is that the horn goes for $100,000 to $200,000 a kilogram,” Mr. Gray said, adding that Mr. Weng, the alleged mule, would likely have received very little of this.
Mr. Weng was sent to the Agriculture Ministry on Sunday for questioning, according to Mr. Hay. Officials at the ministry could not be reached on Tuesday for an update on his status.
Mr. Gray said the trafficking of rhino horns was a growing problem in Cambodia as security measures at Vietnamese and Thai airports had become more stringent.
“Some people say 10 to 20 percent, for activities like this, are caught,” he said.