Laos resort 'a lawless playground' for illegal wildlife trade

Laos resort 'a lawless playground' for illegal wildlife trade

A chinese-run resort complex in north-west Laos whose activities include offering parts of endangered species for eating - such as bear's paws and tiger meat - was slammed yesterday by an activist organisation which called on the country to crack down on the illegal market.

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), in its report released yesterday, also called on the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) to impose trade suspensions on Laos, which theoretically had the power to crack down on the illegal trade in the complex but had done nothing.

The 24-page EIA report - the result of an investigation conducted jointly with Vietnam-based Education for Nature Vietnam - said the Golden Triangle special economic zone (SEZ) in Bokeo province, on the Mekong river bordering Thailand and Myanmar, has "effectively become a lawless playground".

The report details how captive tigers held in a facility in the zone - which is run by the Hong Kong-registered Kings Romans Group (KRG) or Dok Ngiew Kham in the Lao language - have increased in number.

The main feature of the resort complex, built on land leased by KRG for 99 years since 2007, is a massive casino.

A restaurant in the complex's "Chinatown section" was found by investigators to be openly offering bear's paws, monitor lizards, pangolins, Tokay gecko, snakes and turtles. The restaurant also

had jars of what was claimed to be tiger bone wine.

"Investigators observed a live python and a bear cub kept in cages by the restaurant entrance and the kitchen exit, respectively - both of which were available to eat on request," the report said.

The investigators also found four tigers at the zone in the middle of last year, but the number had risen to 35 by last month.

Ms Debbie Banks, the EIA's tiger campaigner, said in an interview: "In theory, Lao enforcement authorities could walk in and seize products, arrest people, file charges, and investigate the individuals and their connections." But while there had been repeated reports on the illegal activities in the zone - by The Straits Times itself in 2013, and by activist film-maker Karl Amman in 2014 - the Lao government had done nothing, she said.

Also, since the firm was run by Chinese, China would come under pressure to investigate links between traders at the SEZ and wildlife criminals operating between Laos, Myanmar and China.

"The blatant illegal wildlife trade by Chinese companies in this part of Laos should be a national embarrassment and yet it appears to enjoy high-level political support from the Laos government, blocking any potential law enforcement," the report said.

Efforts by The Straits Times to locate a contact at the KRG headquarters in Hong Kong failed. A request for the Lao government's response, faxed yesterday to its embassy in Bangkok, met with no response.

This article was first published on March 20, 2015.
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