Monday, August 17, 2009

An Apology?

In an interview with Starprobe, Wong spoke about life in US prison and gave his views on the wildlife trade, and stressed that he has remained “clean” since his return to Malaysia in 2004.

Tell us about the US Fish and Wild­life Services sting.

When I saw George Morrison (at the airport in Mexico City) I had this “game over” feeling. (Morrison was undercover agent “Karl Hart” who set up the shell company PacRim based in San Francisco.) The first thing that came to my mind was my son. I could do 100 years in prison. We adults have to pay for what we did but it’s the hurt ... I couldn’t bring myself to call home, I was ashamed.

Then a Malaysian Embassy official informed me that it was all over the papers and I should make that call. He gave me a 100 peso call card. By the time my son got to the phone, the line was disconnected. That really hurt.

You have been labelled the Pablo Escobar (Colombian drug lord) of wildlife trafficking.

The reports painted me as a monster. I’m no Pablo Escobar. Do you know what he was like? I’m just like any other guy; I just got a bit greedy.

How did you earn your parole?

I told them what they wanted to hear. They bought my story – hook, line and sinker. I was not obliged to tell them the truth. In this business, you can’t reveal your network. You’d be done in if you did.

Do you have any connection to the proposed tiger park initiated by the Penang Government?

I’m not involved. Whatever the public and NGOs said is not true. They are just speculating. I wish they will spend their resources on more blatant trafficking cases out there than paying attention to me. But sure, that operation will likely serve as a tiger farm.

You’re saying that you’re absolutely clean now?

I don’t want to go to jail again. I had difficulties sleeping in the cell. I saw gang fights, rape. Do you think I want to live through that again?

So what were you doing in Tan­zania? (At the beginning of this interview, Wong showed a photograph dated Nov 2008 of a ploughshare tortoise in his hand. He expressed concern that the highly-priced Madagascar tortoise is targetted by Chinese traffickers for its meat.)

Oh ... just visiting. There’s this famous place in Zanzibar ... it’s just not right to eat this tortoise.

What about allegations that you are protected by a high-ranking officer in Perhilitan (Department of Wildlife and National Park)?

That’s rubbish. I said it before and I will say it again, (that officer) is the most diligent wildlife officer I have dealt with.

There is talk that you benefitted from auctions of confiscated shipments due to this connection with the officer.

There’s no truth in it. There was one (confiscated) shipment of monitor lizards and I pleaded with (the officer to let me have it) but the officer declined and sent them all to the Malacca Zoo. Anyway, these auction stories are ancient.

What do you think of the book The Lizard King?

He (Bryan Christy) wrote it as though he had spoken with me at length. In reality, he only met me for less than 15 minutes at my office. I did offer him a lift but he declined.

There was suspicion you were the intended recipient of a ploughshare and radiated tortoise consignment in October 2007 that was intercepted by Customs at the KLIA, as well as the Indian star tortoises seized in the last few years.

That’s interesting. I’m really intrigued by whoever is using my name. I’m curious how they managed to smuggle so many tortoises.

If you’re not involved, why would your name surface?

I think my name carries weight. They know that I keep my word. I don’t blame these people. They always link (trafficking) to me. I’m used to it now. Whatever I say could be used against me.

How many special permits (to keep totally protected species under the Wildlife Protect­ion Act 1972) do you hold?

My staff will know. I don’t handle it myself.

Do you feel any guilt that your activities (in the past) had contributed to extinction of endangered species?

I tend to look at it differently. Everyone is contributing to species extinction. If you sit in an air-conditioned restaurant like now ... (you are contributing to global warming and in turn species extinction). With deforestation, habitats are lost and species go extinct. Endangered is relative. I still trade in wildlife – legally – and that’s the only thing I do. But the quantity is not there anymore nor are there any (big) buyers.
Not the typical Apologetic Malays eh?

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