Keng Liang "Anson" Wong, 52, who was previously convicted of wildlife trafficking in the United States, was charged Wednesday in a district court with exporting the endangered boas without a permit, said Shamsuddin Osman, an official with Malaysia's wildlife department.
The offense that carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison and a fine, Shamsuddin said.
Wong was arrested Aug. 26 after airport authorities found the boa constrictors, together with a few other snakes and a turtle, when his bag broke open on a luggage conveyor belt. Wong was transiting from Malaysia's northern Penang state to Indonesia's capital Jakarta.
The court will reconvene Monday pending Wong's appointment of a lawyer, Shamsuddin said.
He said the criminal charges involve the boas only, because the other animals are not listed as endangered. All of the animals are alive and under the care of wildlife officials, Shamsuddin said.
A decade ago, Wong was sentenced to almost six years in prison in the U.S. for running an animal-smuggling ring that prosecutors said imported and sold more than 300 protected reptiles native to Asia and Africa from 1996 until Wong's arrest in Mexico in 1998. It is unclear whether he served the full term.
Activists say the illegal wildlife trade used to flourish in Malaysia until the country recently stepped up efforts to crack down on it. In July, Parliament passed a new law to punish poachers and smugglers more severely, but the act has not yet taken effect.