Police dismantle criminal group attempting to export $1.2 million worth of Australian lizards to Hong Kong

A criminal ring planning on exporting over a million dollars worth of live lizards and snakes to Hong Kong has been halted according to NSW Police.

After nine packages stuffed with 59 live lizards were discovered in September 2023, the organised crime squad set up a specialist taskforce to investigate illegal native animal exports, assisted by Federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water and NSW Department of Planning and Environment.

Their investigation has led to the arrest of four people accused of trying to smuggle the animals into Hong Kong and the discovery of hundreds of reptiles, including 257 lizards, which police believe were to be sent overseas alive and sold for an average of $5000 per animal.

With that price, the group could expect to pull in around $1.2 million dollars from the animals, which police say were kept in poor conditions, with multiple animals allegedly crammed into small containers bound to be sent in the post overseas.

Following “extensive inquiries” officers arrested a 41-year-old woman and a 54-year-old man in separate raids in December last year, charging them both with several counts of exporting a regulated native species without a permit, with the man also being charged with dealing with the proceeds of crime over $100,000.

Subsequent search warrants at their addresses in Pendle Hill saw police discover 16 native lizards and eggs in a box addressed to Hong Kong, and a further 60 lizards were discovered in a storage room.

Police then stopped a vehicle in Panania on December 29 before arresting the 59-year-old male driver, who they charged with 13 offences including 11 counts of attempting to export a native species without a permit.

After his arrest, a search of a East Hills property uncovered 118 lizards, three snakes, eight eggs and 25 deceased lizards.

On January 5, police then arrested a 31-year-old man in East Hills, charging him with dealing or attempting to deal in a protected animal, dealing with the proceeds of crime over $100,000 and participating in a criminal group.

A subsequent search of a Grenfell property saw the discovery of four more lizards hidden in bags.

Over the course of the investigation, police say they discovered 257 lizards and three snakes.

The animals have been taken to various zoos and wildlife parks to be examined before they are released into the wild.

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