PETALING JAYA: Authorities in Ghana have arrested three agents from a syndicate behind the smuggling of US$1.2 million (RM5.14 million) worth of prohibited pangolin scales from the west African country to Malaysia in June.
They were said to have initially evaded detection by labelling the packaging of the goods in 16 boxes, weighing a total of 400kg, as “oyster shells”.
Graphic Online, an Accra-based news portal, reported on Saturday that the trio – shipping agents Prosper Kumako and Prince Anim, and exporter Robert Konu – were picked up in the capital city on July 27 and 29 through a paper trail for the illegal export during investigations.
It quoted Nana Kofi Adu-Nsiah, executive director of the Ghana Forestry Commission’s wildlife division, as saying that the case had been investigated since the discovery of the pangolin scales by Malaysian custom officials at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on June 15.
He said the commission assigned the wildlife division to look into the matter after a news report emerged about the incident, and the Narcotics Control Board’s intelligence unit decided to conduct further investigations.
The export of body parts from the pangolin, which is also known as “scaly anteater”, has been banned in Ghana since the 1960s.
Adu-Nsiah reportedly said Konu had revealed during interrogations that the scales were supplied by a Chinese national whose name was given only as Lee.
Lee had arranged for the stock to be sent to Ghana through an accomplice in Nigeria, and Konu then facilitated the export from Ghana to Malaysia.
“He (Konu) explained that he receives the stock through Nigeria bus stations. He provided the China and Nigeria phone numbers of Lee for further investigations,” Adu-Nsiah was quoted as saying.
Graphic Online also cited him as warning that there was increasing evidence that some wildlife traffickers were using Ghana as a transit point for their activities.
“You cannot export any product of wildlife animals without a permit so there is no excuse that you don’t know that they cannot be exported,” he was quoted as saying. “Those who did the export have no permit from anywhere.”
“Some people came for permits for oyster shells but the number of requests was increasing and we detected something was wrong. So we refused the permits,” he added.
“We would like to send a message to them that they have no place in Ghana. We will smoke them out.”
On June 16, KLIA customs director Hamzah Sundang announced the seizure of the pangolin scales the night before at the airport’s customs cargo complex.
He said it was the fourth seizure since May involving pangolin scales, and that in all four cases the items had been purchased by locals in Malaysia.
“We believe that these scales would later be exported to Hong Kong as the demand for the scales there is higher for its medicinal value,” he said.
Hamzah also said the import of pangolin scales required a special permit from the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan).
The pangolin is deemed to be endangered and its eight species categorised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its “red list” of threatened species.
Its scales are also listed as prohibited goods under the Third Schedule of the International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008 unless a permit has been obtained.