A Chinese woman carrying 35 kg of cut rhinoceros horns valued at up to $7 million was arrested on Tuesday at Phnom Penh International Airport, officials said on Wednesday.
Lian Jianying, 36, flew from Johannesburg with a stopover in Singapore, said Chan Thettanoreak, head of the Forestry Administration office overseeing Phnom Penh.
Ms. Lian was arrested at 2 p.m. and taken to the Forestry Administration headquarters along with the rhino horns, Mr. Thettanoreak said. She is set to be sent to court today, he said.
The haul is worth anywhere between $3.5 and $7 million dollars in China, its likely market, said Thomas Gray, director of science for the NGO Wildlife Alliance. He said the horns were from South Africa and were discovered in her suitcase.
Mr. Thettanoreak said he did not know why customs officials had decided to search Ms. Jianying’s luggage, referring questions to officials at the Finance Ministry’s general department of customs and excise, which could not be reached.
While it is possible that there were tips involved in Ms. Lian’s arrest, Cambodian customs officials have been trained by Wildlife Alliance to profile travelers’ nationalities and transit routes, Mr. Gray said.
“They’ve been trained on profiling and it’s clearly working,” he said.
Part of the motivation for the training, he said, is that Cambodia could become a hub for the illegal wildlife trafficking as its neighbors tighten their borders and airport security.
“We don’t know if there’s more now than there was before, or if there’s less of it and we’re detecting it better,” he said.
While Cambodia was the final destination on Ms. Lian’s ticket, officials, including Mr. Thettanoreak and Mr. Gray, said the rhino horn likely was headed across porous land borders into Vietnam and China, where it is sold as a status symbol and hangover cure.
Recent investigations released by The Guardian reveal that some 1,000 rhinos are killed in South Africa every year to feed the surging Southeast Asian wildlife trade.