The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is working diplomatic channels to assist a Cambodian agricultural official who was arrested in the US on charges of conspiracy to smuggle crab-eating macaque monkeys into that country.

“For the case of our official who was arrested in New York, let me inform you that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cambodian embassy in Washington and consulate in New York are working through diplomatic channels and legal means to protect and seek justice for our official, as he was arrested while on a formal mission,” foreign affairs ministry spokesman Chum Sounry told reporters via Telegram.

He added that the Cambodian embassy in the US was seeking consular access to the detained official and was in the process of hiring legal representation for him.

According to a November 16 announcement on the website of the US Department of Justice, Kry Masphal, director of the Wildlife and Biodiversity Department, along with the director-general of the Cambodian Forestry Administration who remains in the Kingdom, have both been indicted for alleged conspiracy to smuggle crab-eating macaque monkeys – also called long-tailed macaques – into the US.

According to the US justice department’s official statement, the two Cambodian officials and six other alleged co-conspirators are charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act, which carries a punishment of up to five years in prison, along with seven counts of smuggling that can be punished with up to 20 years in prison for each count.

In a November 17 press release, the agriculture ministry said that Masphal had been arrested at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York while in transit to attend the meeting of the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Panama.

One day after the arrest, the ministry said that its officials were “surprised and saddened” to have learned of the arrest through media reports. The ministry stated that the agriculture minister and the Cambodian government would do their best to seek justice and clear the names of the accused officials.