Cambodia Denounces US Investigation on Monkey Smuggling After Charges Were Dropped

More than a year later, the U.S. Court of the Southern District of Florida on March 22 overturned the indictment against Kry Masphal (holding bouquet), allowing him to return to Cambodia on March 25, three days after the court cleared him. Photo: Ministry of Agriculture

PHNOM PENH – The Cambodian government condemned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the detention of the Cambodian official Kry Masphal, who was accused of smuggling endangered long-tail macaques. While he was acquitted by a U.S. court on March 22, more than a year after being charged, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries claimed the Service “overstepped their authority.”

Kry Masphal, the director of the Forestry Administration's Department of Wildlife and Biodiversity, was arrested at the Kennedy International Airport in New York City on Nov. 16, 2022, while en route to the U.N. Meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Panama.

He was charged, along with Forestry Administration Director-General Keo Omaliss and six other non-Cambodian defendants, with an eight-count indictment for smuggling and conspiracy to violate U.S. Lacey and Endangered Species Act.

He was released on bail on Dec. 27, 2022, but couldn’t go back to his home country before the verdict had been pronounced.

More than a year later, the U.S. Court of the Southern District of Florida on March 22 overturned the indictment against Kry Masphal, allowing him to return to Cambodia on March 25, three days after the court cleared him. 

“We denounce the actions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which have overstepped their authority and failed to adhere to international best practices in enforcing cross-border laws,” the Agriculture Ministry said at 1 a.m. on March 26 in a statement.

The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh said that the “Embassy respects the independence of the U.S. District Court and the impartial decision reached by the jury through due process.” 

The Embassy directed the reporter to the U.S. Department of Justice for questions regarding ongoing cases.

The Agriculture Ministry spokesperson could not be reached for comments.

In the statement, the ministry said it didn’t make any statement during the trial process to allow the U.S. court to try the case without external pressure and with integrity. 

The ministry collaborated with U.S. legal representatives to challenge the prosecution's case and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's misrepresentation of Kry Masphal.

“This misrepresentation was based on evidence obtained via improper investigations, concealed from Cambodian authorities, and contravening normal practices of cross-border law enforcement norms,” the statement read.

The court’s decision was a just verdict, the ministry said, adding that it confirms Kry Masphal’s continuous observance of laws, regulations, and international conventions.

“The allegations against Cambodia regarding the long-tailed macaque trade had no evidence and relied on unfounded assertions disseminated by certain individuals or NGO personnel, disseminated through local unprofessional media and Western mainstream media, aiming to discredit Cambodian officials and influence the court decision,” the ministry said. 

The indictment charges 31 “overt acts” by co-conspirators, including meetings, financial transactions, and shipments of macaques to Florida and Texas under false documents, as well as wild long-tailed macaques to Cambodia.

Kry Masphal allegedly participated in the pricing for wild macaques to be taken to monkey breeding facilities operated by the co-conspirators, between Dec. 2017 and Sept. 2022.

Masphal, who participated in delivering these “unofficial” macaques to the facilities, including Vanny Bio Research (Cambodia) Corporation, also was paid for the illegal monkeys by the co-conspirators.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement; HSI, Newark, N.J., Field Office; HSI, Miami Field Office; and the Internal Revenue Service. 

Primate scientist Lisa Jones-Engel of the Animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said: “Regardless of the verdict, the evidence showed that countless monkeys were abducted from their forest homes and laundered with dirty paperwork.”

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