Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

U.S Court Acquits Agriculture Ministry’s Kry Masphal Of Monkey-Smuggling Charge

Wild monkeys are seen on electric poles near Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh on November 19, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang
Wild monkeys are seen on electric poles near Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh on November 19, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

The U.S district court in Florida has acquitted Kry Masphal of any wrongdoing for allegedly smuggling long-tail macaques, according to a post by animal activists group Peta.

In November 2022, the US authority arrested Masphal, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF)’s wildlife and biodiversity department director, in New York while transiting to Panama for a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference.

Masphal, and Keo Omaliss, director of MAFF’s forestry administration, were indicted on charges of smuggling and conspiracy to violate American anti-wildlife trafficking and endangered species protection laws, according to a statement by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

Alongside them, Vanny Bio Research owner James Man Sang Lau from Hong Kong, their general manager Dickson Lau, also from Hong Kong, and four other employees were indicted on eight counts, the US Attorney’s Office said. Each member of the alleged primate smuggling ring faces up to more than 100 years in prison.

Omaliss could not be reached for comment.

On Monday, MAFF stated that the U.S court’s dismissal of the charge against Masphal “represents a fair judgment, and affirmed that Cambodian officials have consistently upheld the law, regulations and international conventions”.

They expressed disappointment over the wrongful accusation and denounced the US Fish and Wildlife Service for misrepresenting Cambodian officials.

“The misrepresentation was based on evidence obtained via improper investigations, concealed from Cambodian authorities, and contravening normal practices of cross-border law enforcement norms,” the MAFF statement read.

The ministry said the allegations regarding the long tailed macaque trade were made without evidence. The allegations relied on “unfounded assertions and disseminated by certain individuals or NGO personnel, disseminated through local unprofessional media and Western mainstream media”. These were allegedly aimed to “discredit Cambodian officials and influence the court decision”.

Thus far, MAFF asserted, all exported long-tailed macaques from Cambodia have adhered strictly to international laws and conventions.

The government worked hard and tried to fight for justice for Masphal who was detained for 16 months, the ministry said, thanking former Prime Minister Hun Sen and his predecessor Hun Manet for helping Masphal.

Photos posted on MAFF’s Facebook showed Masphal arriving at Phnom Penh International Airport on March 25, who was welcomed by his family members and ministry officials.

Kry Masphal arrives at the airport where he was greeted by MAFF officials and his family members after the US court acquitted him, MAFF’s facebook page on March 25, 2024.

Meanwhile, the US Attorney’s Office said James and Dickson “owned and managed a series of related corporations that conspired with black market collectors and corrupt officials in Cambodia to acquire wild-caught macaques and launder them through Cambodian entities for export to the US and elsewhere, falsely labeled as captive bred.”

PETA senior vice president Jason Baker told CamboJA News that regardless of the outcome of Masphal’s case, the evidence revealed that the monkeys were taken from their natural habitats accompanied by falsified documents. These documents were approved by representatives from Worldwide Primates and Orient BioResource Center (now Inotiv).

He shared that the primate experimentation industry is rife with “corruption, secrecy and lawbreaking”, and that PETA remains committed to exposing the truth. 

“This case has offered just a glimpse into the crooked and cruel business of monkey importation, and as we await the trials of Omaliss and other individuals,” said Baker. Omaliss and the others have been indicted by the US Department of Justice for their suspected involvement in the extensive monkey-smuggling scheme, he added. “The primate-importation industry must be shut down immediately.”

Wesley Holzer, public diplomacy and information officer at the US embassy in Phnom Penh, said via email that the embassy respects the independence of the US District Court and the impartial decision reached by the jury through due process. 

Wesley directed further questions to the US Department of Justice regarding the ongoing cases.