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Cambodian official acquitted of smuggling rare wild monkeys into South Florida

Miami Herald
A Cambodian official accused of illegally importing wild, long-tailed macaque monkeys into the United States that were destined for Miami was acquitted Friday of conspiracy and smuggling charges after a two-week federal trial.

Masphal Kry, 47, the deputy director of the Department of Wildlife and Biodiversity for the Cambodian Forestry Administration, had been under home confinement in Virginia since his arrest in November 2022 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Now, Kry is back at home with his family in Cambodia.

“He should never have been charged, and we are grateful to the jury and the court for seeing that justice was done in this case,” said lead counsel, Mark MacDougall, of Washington, D.C., who worked on Kry’s defense with Coral Gables attorney John Byrne.

Kry was the only defendant named in an indictment to face trial in Miami. Seven other defendants from Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, and Hong Kong, including Kry’s boss, the general director of the Cambodian Forestry Administration, are at large.

Monkeys’ high value

Kry was acquitted of the main conspiracy charge and one count of smuggling 360 Macaque monkeys with a declared value of $661,680 into JFK on Aug. 24, 2018. The conspiracy charge carried up to five years in prison and the smuggling charge up to 20 years.

Before a 12-person federal jury reached their unanimous not guilty verdicts, Kry’s lawyers were successful at knocking out one additional smuggling count while prosecutors Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Emily Stone dropped five others in the trial before U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams. Those dismissed charges alleged the illegal importation of more than 2,200 wild, long-tailed Macaque monkeys worth about $6 million. The charges were dismissed over a lack of evidence.

The rare monkeys, sometimes known as crab-eating macaques, are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which requires special permits to be imported into the United States.

The agreement, implemented in the U.S. through the Endangered Species Act, allows signatory members to monitor the trade of rare species such as the macaques. Permits are individually numbered and include detailed information about the shipment, including a source code, which says whether the animal was bred in captivity or taken from the wild — a critical distinction.

Wild-caught monkeys

The indictment alleged that two Hong Kong businessmen operated a series of corporations that conspired with black market collectors and corrupt officials in Cambodia to acquire wild-caught macaques and export them to the United States with labels falsely saying “captive bred,” which can be legally traded.

To make up for a shortage of monkeys at breeding facilities in Cambodia, the two businessmen were accused of paying bribes to Cambodian authorities in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) to deliver wild-caught macaques taken from national parks and protected areas in Cambodia, according to the indictment. Between December 2017 and September 2022, Kry was accused of negotiating with the two co-conspirators over the pricing of wild macaques to be captured and delivered to monkey breeding facilities in Cambodia.

The conspiracy, which involved meetings and financial transactions, led to the shipment of about 3,000 wild-caught macaques mixed in with captive-bred ones to Florida and Texas — all with falsified permits, according to the indictment.

However, the Miami federal jury found that prosecutors failed to make their case — at least concerning Kry’s alleged role in the conspiracy.

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