Another Cambodian official may have ties to monkey smuggling ring

Another senior official from Cambodia’s Agriculture Ministry appears to have ties to companies accused of poaching and smuggling endangered monkeys, RFA has found.
Sen Sovann is director general of the ministry’s Department of Animal Health and Production, which is responsible for issuing health certificates to monkeys before they are exported. 
He is also listed in the Cambodian Commerce Ministry as being a shareholder in P and Cei Import Export Co. Ltd., according to records archived in 2019 by Open Corporates, an organization that publicizes corporate data.
P and Cie lists its main business activity as the “raising of diverse animals including exotic and other live animals.” In a text message exchange with RFA, Sen said the company owned and leased land, and that he had sold his shares in 2016 to a Canadian man named Cald Ip. 
But Ip is not listed in the Commerce Ministry records for P and Cie or otherwise. The only other shareholder besides Sen, according to the records, is James Mansang Lau, a businessman who founded Vanny Bio Research, a company that U.S. prosecutors allege is at the heart of the alleged illegal monkey smuggling ring.
In November, Lau was indicted in the U.S. on charges that he, along with five of his employees and two senior Cambodian Agriculture Ministry officials, exported thousands of poached long-tailed macaques into the U.S. 
The eight are said to have laundered the animals through Cambodian monkey farms owned by Lau’s Vanny group of companies to pass them off as captive-bred before exporting them to the U.S. for use in medical research. 
The two senior ministry officials are Forestry Administration Director General Keo Omaliss and Department of Wildlife and Biodiversity Director Kry Masphal, who is currently under house arrest in Virginia awaiting a trial slated to begin in late February in Miami.
Allegations denial
All parties have denied the charges and the Cambodian government has vowed to seek justice for its officials. 
In the text exchange with RFA, Sen described Ip as “just a regular friend.” But he said that he did not have any contact information for him as the two were not close, and he declined to say how much Ip paid him for his shares in P and Cie.
Sen initially told RFA that the land housed Vanny’s Kandal province monkey farm, although he later backtracked. “I don’t know what it is used for,” Sen wrote in a text message. 
P and Cie’s registered address appears to match addresses listed online for the monkey farm, although neither list a road name or house number, as is common in rural areas.
Export process
Before long-tailed macaques are imported into the U.S. for medical research their owners are required to provide the U.S. authorities with two pieces of paper guaranteeing that they were bred in captivity and that they are healthy.
The first piece of paper is a permit issued under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES. The permits certify that the macaques to be exported were bred in captivity and are signed by the exporting country"s CITES office.
In Cambodia, the office is part of the Forestry Administration, which itself falls under the Agriculture Ministry. Only captive-bred macaques are allowed to be used in medical research in order to protect dwindling wild populations. Captive-bred macaques are also believed to give more accurate results in testing.
The indictment against Lau and his alleged cohort claims that they “utilized the services of [the Ministry of Agriculture] and its employees … to secure CITES permits which falsely identified wild-caught macaques as captive bred in [Vanny] facilities.”
The second piece of paper required is a health certificate, to guarantee the monkeys are free of diseases. In Cambodia, those health certificates are issued by the Department of Animal Health and Production, which Sen leads.
An ‘awkward’ link
Sen insists that his involvement in P and Cie did not overlap with Lau’s, despite the records showing the two as joint owners. 
“I had nothing to do with him about his business, while my colleagues did their jobs for health certificates,” Sen wrote RFA. Lau could not be reached for comment.
Lisa Jones-Engel, a primatologist who spent 30 years working with research monkeys, including in Cambodia, says Sen’s involvement in the business, regardless of his relationship with Lau, represented a conflict of interest. A former professor at the University of Washington, Jones-Engel in recent years has begun campaigning against the use of primates in medical experiments and now works as an advisor to animal welfare charity Peta.
“These health certificates are so important for public health, you don’t screw around with this,” Jones-Engel told RFA in an interview. “So, when you have a director of the department responsible for generating these certificates, that’s the same person who is making any kind of money off the industry. Well, that’s awkward.”


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