Australian native lizards were cruelly treated when they were illegally smuggled from Melbourne to Hong Kong, police allege.
Sai Kit Cheng is fighting charges in the Melbourne Magistrates Court that he ended up with $500,000 as a result of the smuggling operation.
The 34-year-old allegedly inflicted cruelty to the blue-tongued and shingleback lizards in the process of mailing them overseas. He also illegally imported lizards into Victoria from NSW, police say.
It is alleged the lizards received “pain and suffering” at the hands of Cheng.
He is accused of handling five shingleback lizards in June 2018, four eastern blue-tongued lizards in September 2018, two western blue-tongued lizards in October 2018 and another two shingleback lizards in that same month.
They were said to be destined for Hong Kong, which has been described as the “crossroads of the criminal wildlife trade”.
The court on Monday heard the most serious charges were those relating to almost half a million dollars.
Prosecutor Daniel Porceddu said the serious cash – $498,760 – was “obtained” through the lizard scheme, and the court heard it was seized from Cheng’s car on March 7 last year.
In a committal hearing testing if the case against him is strong enough to proceed to trial, a witness told the court Cheng approached him and asked him to work in the lizard smuggling operation.
The witness said he needed to pay off debts and had asked Cheng if he knew of any extra work.
The witness alleged Cheng arranged for him to be paid – either in cash or through bank transfers from various accounts – in exchange for him taking packages containing lizards to the post office.
“I’m not aware of where the money came from,” he told the court.
“If I didn’t get paid, I would ask him for it and he would say ‘I’ll get the payment’ or something – I can’t remember what the exact words were.”
Defence lawyer Damian Sheales said the issue of whether a search warrant was executed lawfully was “front and centre” in the case, putting to the court the warrant did not cover Cheng’s car from where the money was seized.
Cheng is facing 26 charges including knowingly deal with the proceeds of a crime, animal cruelty, and dispose of protected wildlife.