A prosecutor in southern Vietnam has refused to begin an investigation into the theft of nearly 120 eggs from the olive ridley sea turtle, saying that legal action can only be taken if the product of an animal is stolen.
On June 17, forest rangers at the Con Dao National Park on Con Dao Island, a district off the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau, caught Pham Van Tan red-handed as he was transporting 116 ridley sea turtle eggs stolen from the park.
Ridley sea turtles, also known as the Pacific ridley sea turtle, is a medium-sized species of sea turtle found in warm and tropical waters, primarily in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Tan, 28, admitted to the theft, prompting the park rangers to call on Con Dao police to investigate the case.
On July 27, the police made the decision to start investigating the turtle egg theft, with Tan facing charges of “violating regulations on protection of rare, endangered wildlife.”
However, the decision was not approved by head of the district People’s Procuracy, Tran Thanh Tam.
The chief prosecutor insists that the stolen eggs are not the product of the olive ridley sea turtle living on the island, so there is insufficient ground to press the case.
Tam said that Article 190 of the Penal Code does not stipulate any legal action against the act of stealing eggs from wildlife animals.
According to the same Article 190, anyone who illegally hunts, kills, transports and trades rare wild animals or transports or trades “products of those animals” will face administrative fines between VND5 million and VND50 million (US$223-$2,230), or jail terms of six months to three years.
Citing this regulation, Tam said as the eggs are not products of the sea turtles concerned, the man who stole them is not liable to be punished.
This left both Con Dao police and the national park rangers perplexed.
The chief prosecutor said he had consulted the provincial procuracy for his decision.
“The law says that the stolen items must be products of the animals,” he said.
“One example of this is the rhino horn – it is a body part which you cut out from the animal itself.”
Tam rejected petitions by the Con Dao police and the national park rangers that turtle eggs could be nothing but products of the turtles, as it is the reptiles that laid those eggs.
According to the Con Dao National Park, egg thief Tan had been booked many times for stealing sea turtle eggs but was yet to be punished by the law.