Bach Mai was arrested back in January 2018 in connection with US$1 million worth of rhino horns smuggled from Africa to Thailand. He is a Vietnamese national with Thai citizenship trafficker known to smuggle elephant ivory, rhino horn, tiger parts, pangolins, etc., as proved by the anti-trafficking group Freeland.
He was arrested after police caught an airport official attempting to remove 14 rhino horns from quarantine at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport back in December 2017. Police investigations traced the shipment to Bach who allegedly is at the center of a poaching and smuggling syndicate and was charged under the Thai Customs Act, the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act, and the Animal Epidemics Act. The syndicate apparently also smuggles elephant ivory and tiger parts and sells them to Chinese and Vietnamese dealers.
However, at the end of last month, Back was released after a key witness retracted his testimony in court. Therefore, the case was dismissed at a provincial court because of lack of evidence, sparking outrage from conservationists who originally hoped that Bach’s arrest would kick off a much larger investigation to unravel Hydra. Which is the Southeast Asian crime syndicate Bach allegedly runs with his brother, Bach Van Lim, according to Steven Galster, founder of Freeland, who has been tracking the Hydra syndicate since 2003:
“If you’re going from a scale of one to 10 for extremely important players in illegal wildlife trade, Boonchai is around an 8.5. There’s probably only one or two others on his level in Southeast Asia.”
If he had been convicted, he could have faced up to four years in prison and a $1,300 fine. However, Bach’s case is like all the others of those leading illegal wildlife trade operations, according to Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with the international wildlife trade monitoring network, Traffic:
“There’s so many cases with so-called kingpins or senior, important figures that either drag on for years in the courts and then collapse or simply wind up not being prosecuted. It’s enormously frustrating because it happens far too often.”
Steven Galster also added that the Thai government can still appeal the verdict. He is also looking into the possibility of opening up a public-interest lawsuit against him. He says: “We need to treat these cases as what they really are: transnational organized crime.”