Fish company research head tries to smuggle fish into Australia

Australian customs officers found 20 plastic bags said to contain live and dead endangered fish concealed in Alex Chang Kuok Weai’s luggage when he arrived at the Adelaide Airport on a flight from Singapore on Feb 2.

He has a doctorate, was a polytechnic lecturer and heads a department at one of the biggest fish companies here.

But yesterday, Alex Chang Kuok Weai, 44, was charged in Australia with attempting to smuggle endangered fish into the country.

If sold, the fish would have netted Chang, the head of Qian Hu Corporation's research and development, at least A$235,000 (S$250,000), according to figures reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

ABC reported that customs officers found 20 plastic bags of live and dead endangered fish in his luggage when he arrived at the Adelaide Airport from Singapore on Feb 2.

Around 26 of the fish were listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

In an online press release, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service said that a search of two properties linked to Chang in Adelaide resulted in more exotic fish being found, including an Asian Arowana, valued at almost A$30,000.

Qian Hu's website states that Chang joined the group in January 2009 and holds a doctorate from the National University of Singapore specialising in fish molecular genetics.

He was a lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic before he joined Qian Hu, a company listed on the Singapore Exchange.

Chang is also a member of the Ornamental Fish Business Cluster, a partnership between companies and the Government to promote the industry.

A spokesman for Qian Hu said Chang was on leave when he visited Australia in his personal capacity.

RISKS

Local fish farms TNP spoke to said smuggling fish into another country would be difficult, and the chances of the fish dying on the way are high.

A spokesman for Mainland Fish Farm said: "Even bringing them into Malaysia would be hard, because smuggling would require minimum amounts of water and air for the fish."

The spokesman said that the risks outweighed the profits and few would undertake the task.

"You can't just anyhow carry fish into another country, especially endangered ones," said the spokesman.

"You take just two fishes in and you'll find yourself serving time in jail."

A spokesman for Marugen Fish Farm, another local fish farm, said: "I don't think it would be easy to smuggle fish and even if someone does manage, a lot of them would die in the process."

Chang's lawyer, Ms Jessica Kurtzer, said she had contacted his employer who was providing him support and was hoping to find a suitable place for him to reside on bail.

The court heard the find sparked an international investigation and the charge against Chang may be amended in light of further evidence.

Customs central regional commander James Watson said: "These arrests should send a strong message to anyone involved in wildlife smuggling: Customs and Border Protection is serious about working with our law enforcement partners to target you."

The maximum penalty for wildlife trade offences is 10 years' jail and A$170,000 penalty for individuals or up to A$850,000 for corporations.

davidsun@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 10, 2015.
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