Man who attempted to smuggle live leopards flees Thailand
A United Arab Emirates national arrested last month with baby leopards in his carry-on luggage has fled Thailand under suspicious circumstances, police confirmed Wednesday.
Noor Mahmood, 36, was arrested at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport on May 13 as he prepared to fly first class to Dubai, after police found four baby leopards, one marmoset, one gibbon and an Asiatic black bear cub in his hand luggage.
Mahmood never appeared for his court date on Monday. Police found that he had left the country on May 23 after posting bail at a police station near the airport and had his passport returned.
"I'm trying to find out why the police returned his passport, because under normal bail conditions the passport of a suspect is usually kept by police until he faces prosecution," said Colonel Kiattipong Khawsamang, deputy commander of the Natural Resources and Environmental Crimes Suppression Division.
FREELAND, a non-governmental organization focusing on South-East Asia's illegal trade in endangered species, said it believed Thai police had come under high-level political pressure.
"We received a lot of calls on how strings were being pulled by politicians and influential people," said Steven Galster, director of FREELAND, which assisted in the arrest. "We didn't believe it at first, but now we do."
Mahmood had produced a picture of himself with a prominent Thai politician, currently living in Dubai, in an attempt to secure his release, Kiattipong confirmed, without naming the politician.
"It's a big bad dirty deal," Galster said. "We're really disappointed and so is Kiattipong and his team."
FREELAND believes Mahmood was part of a lucrative animal-trafficking ring that has been supplying rare animals from Asia to the Middle East.
The cost of a leopard cub on Bangkok's illegal market is about 5,000 dollars, but they could fetch twice that or more in the Middle East, Galster said.
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