A trail of fingerprints, reams of surveillance footage and loads of perseverance helped unmask a criminal mastermind smuggling Australian native animals out of the country in stacked potato chip tubes.

Environmental crime investigators spent a year on the trail of Malaysian man Chek Wei Javill Chin as he hatched an elaborate criminal plan to traffic reptiles from Sydney and Melbourne to cashed up buyers in Hong Kong.

Environmental crime investigators found lizards stuffed in socks and in potato chip containers inside international parcels headed for Hong Kong.
Environmental crime investigators found lizards stuffed in socks and in potato chip containers inside international parcels headed for Hong Kong.

Chin had been travelling between the capital cities in an attempt to throw the authorities off his trail, while he smuggled the animals in dozens of international express parcels.

But with CCTV footage and fingerprints left on the packages, Chin was finally linked to the posting of 21 packages containing an array of Australian native species such as Leaf-tailed and Knob-tailed geckos, Lace Monitors, Shingleback and Blue-tongue Lizards, King Eastern-water Dragons and a Stimson's python.

The animals were found inside potato chip containers.
The animals were found inside potato chip containers.

After they tracked Chin to his Chatswood home, Operation Vulcan, a joint operation between the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and NSW police's Strike Force Raptor, swooped.

They discovered Chin had attempted to export a range of regulated native species bound in socks and bags hidden inside containers with food, toys, clothing and shoes to Hong Kong.

Chin was charged with nine offences relating to 117 animals he attempted and successfully sent to Hong Kong.

Native Australian reptiles are highly sought after overseas.
Native Australian reptiles are highly sought after overseas.

Chin had also enlisted others to help in scheme including a 35-year-old Malaysian woman, who was an unlawful citizen, who was jailed in Perth for her part in the plot before being deported late year.

Native Australian reptiles are highly sought after overseas and there has been a jump in the number of overseas-based pet shops exclusively selling Australian reptiles.

Chin has been sentenced to jail for three years and six months with a non-parole period of two years and four month.

Chin was charged with nine offences relating to 117 animals.
Chin was charged with nine offences relating to 117 animals.

He is on an expired visa and likely to be deported after he has served his sentence.

Chin is the second person in the past month to be jailed for trafficking Australian wildlife. Two others received jail terms to be served in the community.

A further four people are due to face the courts this year.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the joint agency operation which led to the arrest and sentencing of Chin a strong message for wildlife smugglers.

"We are focused on bringing down smuggling syndicates and prosecuting individuals," Minister Ley said.

"My Department will continue to engage in joint operations with Australian Border Force, DELWP, and NSW Police to keep maximum pressure on those who engage in this trade."

Illegal wildlife trade is a growing multibillion-dollar global trade.
Illegal wildlife trade is a growing multibillion-dollar global trade.

Assistant Minister Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs Jason Wood Chin man linked to numerous packages containing lizards and other native reptiles bound and hidden inhumane and harmful ways.

"Illegal wildlife trade is a growing multibillion-dollar global trade that poses serious conservation and biosecurity risks for Australia, we will continue working together to bring it to an end."

Originally published as Dramatic arrest of potato chip smuggler caught on camera


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