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Officials misleading public on 'Lizard King'

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Opposition lawmakers in Malaysia claimed Wednesday to have proof notorious wildlife trafficker Anson Wong is linked to a company selling pythons and other animals, accusing authorities of "misleading the public".

An Al Jazeera report last month alleged that Wong, dubbed the "Lizard King", and his wife Cheah Bing Shee were still involved in the wildlife trade through a company called Rona Wildlife.

This was despite the government revoking Wong's licenses after he was jailed in 2010 for attempting to smuggle 95 boa constrictors to Indonesia.

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry said last week that Rona Wildlife did not belong to Wong, despite a worker in the Al Jazeera video saying his boss was "Anson". The video showed albino pythons and other animals in cages at the company.

But opposition parliamentarians showed utility bills naming Cheah as the owner of Rona Wildlife's premises in the northern state of Penang, as well as permits issued by the wildlife department to Rona in December 2012 and June this year.

"The ministry has lied and misled the public when it said Rona was not Anson Wong's outfit. There is no way it could've operated without complicity and corruption from the authorities," N. Surendran, a lawmaker with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's party, said.

He added the water and electricity bills naming Cheah strengthened the case that Rona was owned by proxies of the couple after the admission by the worker in the Al Jazeera video that he worked for Wong.

His opposition colleague Ong Kian Ming called on graftbusters to investigate Wildlife Department officials, claiming they might be on the take from Wong for letting him off the hook.

Wildlife department enforcement director Kadir Hashim told AFP he would look into the fresh claims against Rona but did not comment further.

He had said last month in response to the expose that Wong's permits remained revoked, and the department was investigating both him and his wife.

In the video, Al Jazeera confronted Wong, who was released in 2012 by a Malaysian appeals court, on camera but he declined to comment.

Illegal trade in wildlife is thought to be worth at least $19 billion a year worldwide, according to conservation groups.

Wong is described by wildlife groups as one of the world's most active smugglers of wild animals.

He was sentenced to 71 months in jail in the United States in 2001 after pleading guilty to trafficking in endangered reptiles.

Despite efforts by Southeast Asian authorities to stop animal smuggling, the practice continues, posing a threat to a number of already endangered species, conservationists say.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131204/officials-misleading-public-lizard-king