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Osaka man nabbed for allegedly attempting to smuggle endangered otters into Japan

One of the Oriental small-clawed otters that Hiroyuki Matsui allegedly attempted to smuggle into Japan is seen in this photo provided by Osaka Customs.

OSAKA -- A man has been arrested on suspicion of attempting to smuggle endangered otters into Japan, whose international transactions are banned under the Washington Convention, police and customs said.

Hiroyuki Matsui, 54, a funeral service business operator from Sakai in the western Japan prefecture of Osaka, stands accused of violating the Customs Act.

He denied some of the allegations against him during questioning. "It's true that I didn't declare the animals at customs, but what I attempted to bring into Japan aren't otters but ferrets," he was quoted as telling investigators.

International transactions in the animal, the Oriental small-clawed otter, have been banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), known as the Washington Convention, since Nov. 26.

Matsui attempted to smuggle two Oriental small-clawed otters from Thailand into Japan via Kansai International Airport in Osaka Prefecture, on Sept. 28, 2019, investigators allege.

According to Osaka Customs, officers opened Matsui's suitcase after growing suspicious about his frequent trips to Thailand, and found two otters believed to be about 1 month old and measuring some 20 centimeters long.

As Matsui had run a pet shop until August this year, prefectural police suspect that he smuggled the otters to resell them and are investigating the route through which he obtained the animals.

The Oriental small-clawed otter, which mainly inhabits Southeast Asian countries, is popular as a pet and their smuggling has been rampant although the animal is designated by the CITES as an endangered species. Importers of the animal were required to get permission from the exporting country as well as Japanese customs.

However, parties to the convention voted at a meeting this past August to ban international commercial transactions of the animal in principle and the prohibition came into force on Nov. 26.

Domestic transactions of the otter are allowed in Japan but those who sell, buy or give away the animal are required to file applications with relevant authorities.

(Japanese original by Yasutoshi Tsurumi, Izumisano Resident Bureau, and Kumiko Yasumoto, Osaka City News Department)

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