A bid to export native lizards out of Australia hidden in potato chip tubes came undone after authorities busted a smuggling ring by analysing fingerprints and surveillance footage.

The footage and fingerprints left on parcels led environmental crime authorities to Malaysian national Chek Wei Javill Chin, who was in the country on an expired visa.

Chin was linked to the posting of 21 packages containing an array of Australian native species bound for Hong Kong.

He was jailed for three-and-a-half years, with a minimum two years and four months, in the NSW District Court this month for his role in the smuggling operation.

Chin had tried 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.

The packages were found to contain species including leaf-tailed and knob-tailed geckos, lace monitors, shingleback and blue-tongue lizards, king eastern water dragons and a Stimson's python.

A bound lizard stuffed in a sock was headed for Hong Kong.
A bound lizard stuffed in a sock was headed for Hong Kong.

Chin was arrested in October 2019 following a joint operation involving federal and Victorian environmental agencies and NSW Police between December 2017 and August 2018.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the successful operation sent a strong message to wildlife smugglers.

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

"This is a cruel trade, one that inflicts pain and often death to the animals involved and one which poses a real risk to biodiversity."

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 it is an offence to export a regulated native specimen without a permit.

Each wildlife offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years' jail or a $210,000 fine.

Customs Assistant Minister Jason Wood said the sentencing should be taken as a stark warning to those seeking to participate in the cruel trade.

"This man was linked to numerous packages containing lizards and other native reptiles bound and hidden inhumane and harmful ways," Mr Wood said.

"Illegal wildlife trade is a growing multi-billion-dollar global trade that poses serious conservation and biosecurity risks for Australia.

The lizards were found hidden in containers with food, toys, clothes and shoes.
The lizards were found hidden in containers with food, toys, clothes and shoes.

"We will continue working together to bring it to an end."

Victorian Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio said it was a horrific case of animal cruelty that could not be tolerated.

"Wildlife smuggling is a lucrative crime and the Victorian government, through the conservation regulator, places a high priority on investigating and prosecuting criminals who seek to profit from this cruel trade."

She said the investigation was made possible through the co-operation of agencies Australia Post, Australian Border Force, RSPCA Victoria, Crime Stoppers Victoria, the City of Melbourne, Victoria Police and information from the Victorian public.

A 35-year-old Malaysian national was deported last September after being jailed in Western Australia for 12 months on four counts of attempting to export live regulated native specimens.

The woman was arrested and charged over four of the seized parcels found during Chin's investigation.

Originally published as Disturbing find in potato chip can



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