By Thomas Fuller
Taking a page from the battle against international drug cartels, the United States was due to announce on Wednesday a $1 million reward for information to help dismantle one of Asia’s largest wildlife-trafficking syndicates.
In what officials said was the first time such a reward had been offered, the State Department said it was targeting a syndicate based in Laos, the impoverished and authoritarian Southeast Asian country whose government, investigators say, has been uncooperative in stopping a thriving trade of African ivory, rhino horns, tiger bones and endangered animals harvested by the thousands from Asian jungles.
In a draft statement, Secretary of State John Kerry described the syndicate, the Xaysavang Network, as “one of the most prolific wildlife-trafficking syndicates in operation,” with affiliates in China, Malaysia, Mozambique, South Africa, Thailand and Vietnam.
Investigators say the Laotian syndicate is headed by a Laotian businessman, Vixay Keosavang, who was the subject of an report in The New York Times in March.
Reached on his cellphone on Wednesday, Mr. Vixay said he was being framed. “There are people slandering me,” he said. “If you want to know the truth, you should ask Lao officials.”
Asked specifically about rhino horns sent from South Africa and addressed to him personally — evidence that was presented in a trial that concluded last year in South Africa — Mr. Vixay acknowledged that he had received them.
“I admit that I accepted them in good faith,” he said, adding that Laotian officials were aware of the shipments. But, he said, “I never ordered them.”
Bouaxam Inthalangsi, an official at the Laotian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, said by telephone on Wednesday that American officials gave him documents last week related to Mr. Vixay and the Xaysavang Network. But he said it was not enough evidence to arrest Mr. Vixay, who is based in Bolikhamxai Province outside the capital, Vientiane. More....