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Man Pleads Innocent Animal Smuggling

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Malaysian man has pleaded innocent to charges he spearheaded an international wildlife smuggling ring that brought an estimated 300 protected animals into the United States.

Liang Wong, 42, appeared briefly Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Joseph C. Spero. He was being held without bail pending a Sept. 11 hearing.

The government alleges Wong and several associates brought the animals into the country using airline baggage and fraudulently labeled Federal Express packages.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials went undercover for three years investigating the so-called Sungai Rusa Wildlife business. Officials said they documented 14 illegal shipments to the country via Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines that contained protected reptiles valued at $500,000.

A grand jury in San Francisco indicted Wong in 1998. He was arrested in Mexico that year and extradited Tuesday to the United States after dropping legal action fighting the extradition.

The animals included rare and endangered lizards and tortoises.

Many of the smuggled species, the government said, are listed as endangered under both federal law and an international wildlife treaty.

Wildlife groups estimate illegal smuggling in exotic animals is valued at $6 billion a year.

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