U.S. wildlife officials paid a Chinese national $224k to spy on Cambodia. Their top target was just acquitted.

Federal officials, relying on an animal activist group’s referral, ultimately helped a Chinese national immigrate to the U.S., get work, and housing after spying on Cambodian officials. His tactics contributed to an acquittal in a criminal case.

A high-profile prosecution of a Cambodian government official accused and ultimately acquitted of illegally importing long-tailed macaques into the United States may have ultimately exposed a much deeper, troubling level of activity within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – namely an illegal espionage operation in an otherwise friendly nation.

Court documents also reveal the federal government paid a Chinese national over $200,000 and moved his family to the U.S. to act as an informant in a case that ultimately turned into nothing.


The backstory: Masphal Kry was arrested by federal officials at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in November 2022 on charges of smuggling hundreds of monkeys worth over $660,000 into the U.S. in 2018. 

  • Kry is the deputy director of the Department of Wildlife and Biodiversity for the Cambodian Forestry Administration. 
  • Long-tailed macaques are a type of old world monkey native to Asia that are used in medical research in the U.S. They are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and require special permits to be imported. Only long-tailed macaques that are captive bred can be legally traded. 

The big picture: Kry’s case, which was called “Operation Long Tail Liberation” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, revealed how tax dollars were spent in the failed case. 

  • Court documents show that a Chinese national approached animal rights activist group Cruelty Free International and asked for a salary. The group – through its Director of Special Projects Sarah Kite – then approached the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ultimately leading to the agency awarding him $224,000 to be a paid informant from 2018-2022. 
  • Veng Lim Yeung, the Chinese national, was at a primate facility in Cambodia when he approached the animal rights group and became a U.S. informant. 
  • He testified that he was paid $224,000 from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Yeung admitted in court to stealing electronic records for the U.S. government, installing a program on computers to allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to watch surveillance cameras at the primate facility without authorization from the Cambodian government. 
  • Yeung also admitted in court to smuggling hundreds of wild-caught monkeys while acting as an informant. 
  • Following his work for the U.S. in Cambodia, the government paid for him and his family to move to the U.S., set up a bank account and gave him a backstory to help him find housing since he did not have a credit history. The Fish and Wildlife Service also helped him get a job. 
  • Yeung’s work as an informant proved to be futile in the end as the jury did not find Kry to be guilty, acquitting him on March 25.

What they’re saying: The Cambodia Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries said in a statement that the Fish and Wildlife Service misrepresented Kry and other Cambodian officials. 

  • “This misrepresentation was based on evidence obtained via improper investigations, concealed from Cambodian authorities, and contravening normal practices of cross-border law enforcement norms,” the ministry said. 
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