2 Vietnam soldiers sacked for taking bribes from loggers

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Two army men based in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa have been dismissed for taking bribes from illegal loggers and allowing them to enter a restricted forest to log rare wood.

Col. Le Van Binh, chief of the Khanh Hoa Military Headquarters, told Thanh Nien that the two, referred to as Cuong and Hieu only, were sacked because they did not "honestly" tell investigators what had happened.

Nine others from the Khanh Son District military base were disciplined also for receiving bribes, he said.

All 11 soldiers confessed and hand in to authorities VND220 million (US$10,300) they received from the loggers last September.

The soldiers and several officials in Khanh Son allowed hundreds of people to enter the forest and scour for calambac, a rare fragrant wood estimated to be worth billions of dong per kilogram (VND1 billion equals $47,000).

Vietnam's per capita income was around $1,555 last year.

After some loggers managed to find the timber, the officials seized it and said they would sell it and give the finders half of the loot.

But later the former complained to authorities that the officials did not give them the share as promised.

They had taken 1.5 kilograms of wood that could be worth more than VND10 billion ($476,000).

The authorities launched an investigation. 

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Some of the officials handed in VND1 billion to their agencies.

Four police officers in Khanh Son District and a local man were arrested.

Calambac is the dark resinous heartwood that forms in agar wood trees when they become infected with a type of mold.

It fetches premium prices because it is believed to bring good luck and have the capacity to cure some incurable diseases.

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