US and Cambodian authorities should work together to solve issues surrounding the arrest of a senior Cambodian agricultural official over the alleged “illegal” export of long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) to the US, local analysts urged.
Although a bail was ordered by the US court, Kry Masphal – director of the Department of Wildlife and Biodiversity at the Forestry Administration (FiA) under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries – remains in custody.
The US District Court for the Southern District of Florida on December 22 ordered the release on bail of Masphal and imposed on him a GPS transmitter amid an ongoing investigation.
Masphal was arrested last month in New York, while transiting the US on his way to a meeting of the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Panama. He was charged with conspiracy to smuggle the macaques into the country.
The December 22 release order came after three days of bond hearings before US Judge Kathleen M Williams in Chambers in Miami, Florida, and took immediate effect, according to the court document seen by The Post.
“For reasons discussed on the record during the aforementioned hearings, [Masphal] is ordered released as of the time of entry of this order and is to be fitted with a GPS monitoring system immediately upon release by the pre-trial services office in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York,” said the order.
The document stated that Masphal would have to report to the Cambodian embassy in Washington and remain there until December 27.
“On December 27, 2022, [Masphal] will report to the pre-trial services office for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, where he will be re-fitted with another GPS monitoring system.
“[Masphal] will then reside at a residence in the Eastern District of Virginia where he will remain for the duration of this litigation. He will remain at this residence on home confinement, with no exceptions, until further order of this court,” it said.
According to agriculture minister Dith Tina, Masphal had not been released as of December 24.
“Despite [the] court order, DMC officers are still detaining Mr Kry. What happens there?” he tweeted.
As of December 25, Masphal had not been released in accordance with the Court’s order, said ministry spokeswoman Im Rachna.
“We are waiting for the US authorities to implement the court decision,” she told The Post.
Masphal was arrested in the US in November.
The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida (USAO-SDFL) indicted him for conspiring with a Hong Kong-based company to “illegally” import macaques – sometimes referred to in US legal terms as non-human primates (NHPs) – into the US between December 2017 and January 2022.
He is one of the eight people indicted by the USAO-SDFL for allegedly conspiring with locally-registered Vanny Bio Research (Cambodia) Co Ltd to supply the company’s farms with macaques to be brought into the US in violation of its laws and the CITES Convention.
Keo Omaliss, director-general of the FiA, has also been indicted by the US court.
Cambodia has staunchly denied all the allegations. The agriculture ministry emphasised in a recent statement that the macaques are not captured in the wilderness and smuggled out, but instead bred and raised in captivity under humane conditions that are hygienic and conform to international standards.
Only the macaques born and raised in captivity are exported, as is obligated by the CITES Convention and applicable laws, the statement added.
Last week, The Post reached out to the US embassy in Phnom Penh to seek clarification on the case and what could be done through diplomatic channels.
Stephanie Arzate, the embassy spokesperson, said only that the US is a leader in the global fight against the illicit trade in wildlife and views the trafficking of protected wildlife as a threat to good governance and rule of law while destabilising the environment.
“The US values its cooperation with Cambodia in areas of mutual interest, including efforts to combat wildlife trafficking,” she said.
According to Tina, the number of macaques allowed for export to the US in 2020 was 17,821, in 45 shipments, of which 12,978 were authorised to Vanny Bio Research.
He said the macaques were legally exported in accordance with the Cambodian law and CITES Convention, noting that “none of the shipment has been returned for any reason”. This, he said, implies that if the US side cares about wildlife, they should not have allowed any of wild macaques, if found, to be used and should instead return them to the wild of their origin.
Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Cambodian officials should not be the ones held responsible. Should these alleged crimes really have occurred, the companies involving in exporting and importing the animals are the ones that ought to be held accountable.
“In this case, there should be close cooperation between the two governments. A review should be conducted to ascertain whether any crimes really took place. The companies involved should be held accountable. It is them that should be facing charges or arrest, should a crime have taken place.
“An official who was merely transiting through the US should not have been arrested for alleged participation in the illegal wildlife trade. It is not officials who make these trades, but companies,” he added.
He said if the arrest was made due to a misunderstanding, it could have a negative effect on the bilateral relationship between the two countries.