We watched in utter disbelief as evidence upon evidence was presented to implicate that notorious Malaysian wildlife smuggler Anson Wong is still in business, despite the authorities’ continued insistence that all of his wildlife trading permits had been revoked following his conviction in 2010.
In the documentary ‘Return of the Lizard King’, Steve Chao of Al Jazeera’s 101 East programme and his team spent a year tracing the footprints of Anson Wong and his wife Cheah Bing Shee’s illicit activities across the globe.
The documentary team didn’t need to look so far, however, as the most damning pieces of the puzzle were right here in Malaysia - exotic animals were still being kept on Wong and Cheah’s business premises in Penang, with Wong refusing to even issue a simple denial to the reporter’s question on whether he was still in the business of trafficking wildlife.
If a reporter with no legal mandate can uncover such compelling evidence, surely the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) should also have by now uncovered much more than they claim to know? And yet, we get the same old response that they are “still investigating”. After all these years, this is no longer acceptable. DWNP confiscated Wong’s mobile phone and notebook during the 2010 bust, what was the outcome from that investigation?
It would seem that DWNP had never really intended to follow through with its investigation all along, but was merely biding its time in hope that the issue would eventually go away.
Unfortunately for the department, that didn’t happen. Now, in failing to stem the illicit activities of this twice-convicted, globally notorious felon on his home soil once again, the department has sunk into even deeper infamy. And Malaysia’s reputation as a fortress for wildlife smugglers has been re-affirmed.
The department certainly did not do its own image any favours by failing to take action against those in the department who were known to be close to Wong.
On the contrary, Misliah Mohamed Basir, who was singled out in Brian Christy’s book ‘The Lizard King’ as having a close relationship with Wong did not just escape disciplinary action or at least put in cold storage as one might expect. Instead, she was rewarded with a promotion to the post of deputy director-general of DWNP.
In the documentary, Chao reveals that someone in DWNP has been signing off Wong and Cheah’s application for permits to trade wildlife. So who is Wong and Cheah’s new best friend in the department?
Perhaps the most shocking revelation that came out of the 101 East documentary was that not only is the natural resources and environment minister clueless as to who Wong, who made the headlines of national newspapers two years ago, is, but he openly admits with a shrug of his shoulders that illegal activities can take place without the ministry’s knowledge. One wonders just how much illegal activities there have been.
‘Ask the government’
At the end of the documentary, Wong was asked by Steve Chao just how he could still be in business even though he and his wife should not have any licendes to keep or trade wildlife, Wong’s reply was, “Ask the government”.
So we now ask, why is the government not doing more to cripple Anson Wong and Cheah Bing Shee’s activities? Bringing down Wong and Cheah should be a multi-agency effort and not just the responsibility to DWNP. In this, we make the following demands:
1. We urge the Penang state government to revoke the operating licences for all premises where Anson Wong and Cheah Bing Shee are keeping wildlife.
2. We urge the Registrar of Companies to investigate the various companies registered under Wong and Cheah’s names, including Rona Wildlife, and to de-register these entities if they are found to be operating outside of the official business description or ambit of the law. In addition, do not approve any new applications by Wong and Cheah for registration of companies.
3. We urge the police and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to investigate the person(s) in DWNP who are signing Wong and Cheah’s permits to keep and trade wildlife, as well as Customs and police officers who have been abetting Wong and Cheah’s activities.
4. We urge the DWNP to make public the findings of their investigations into Wong and Cheah’s illegal activities.
5. We urge the Home Ministry to confiscate Wong and Cheah’s current passports and deny any future applications.
6. We urge the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to better educate the minister on the various issues and threats to biodiversity in Malaysia.
THE CABUTLARIS are Dylan Ong and Sara Sukor.