“untouchable” kingpin finally arrested after 10 years
After more than a decade of hunting him down, wildlife smuggling kingpin Boonchai Bach was finally arrested in Nakorn Panom, Thailand, according to Thai Police.
In a press statement released by counter-trafficking organization Freeland on January 20, Bach — whose full name is Bach Van Minh — “is being held in connection to the illicit trafficking of 14 rhino horns from Africa into Thailand in early December 2017.”
He is also suspected of manning “an extensive syndicate responsible for trafficking large quantities of poached elephant ivory, rhino horn, pangolins, tigers, lions, and other rare and endangered species” in the last 10 years.
Bach and his family have been involved in “the international supply chain of illicit wildlife from Asia and Africa” and had ties with “Southeast Asia’s biggest wildlife dealer” Vixay Keosavang, according to a 2013 exposé by the New York Times. The Guardian has referred to the Bach family as Asia’s “top wildlife crime family”.
“This arrest is a significant for many reasons. The confiscated items are high in value. And we are able to arrest the whole network involved, starting from the courier, the facilitator, the exporter who plan to export goods through Thai-Laos border. We even got the moneyman (investor) behind the gang. That means we are able to arrest the whole network,” said Police Colonel Chutrakul Yodmadee in the Freeland statement.
Freeland has been collaborating with corresponding law enforcement agencies to track down major players of wildlife smuggling for years.
In 2014, Freeland — together with Thai investigators — “discovered that Keosavang’s supply chain was actually organized and ran by the Bach family.” Bach hired representatives from Africa, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam to smuggle wildlife to fulfill orders from Vietnam and China.
In the past three years, Freeland and Thai authorities used advanced technology to hunt down Hydra, Bach’s smuggling ring. The authorities used IBM’s i-2 software and Cellebrite’s digital forensics and zeroed in on Hydra’s logistics, which led them to the crime family’s subsidiaries.
Last month, Thai Customs followed a suitcase containing “a large quantity of rhino horns to a Thai government office in Suvarnabhumi Airport” and arrested Nikorn Wongprajan, a member of Hydra.
Nikorn’s arrest led to the apprehension of two other individuals — Bach Van Hoa and a Chinese citizen — after Nikorn admitted that he was hired to transport the suitcase to Van Hoa.
Just last week, after a briefing with Freeland on Hydra and the Bach family’s details, the Thai Police discovered fresh evidence and eventually captured Boonchai in less than 24 hours.
“The security officers of Suvarnabhumi Airport, Suvarnabhumi Airport Police Station, Thai Customs and Immigration Police at Nakhon Panom are to be congratulated for breaking open the country’s largest wildlife crime case, ever,” said Freeland founder Steven Galster.
“This arrest spells hope for wildlife. We hope Thailand, its neighboring countries, and counterparts in Africa will build on this arrest and tear Hydra completely apart.”