A court in the central province of Khanh Hoa opened a trial on Wednesday against four former police officers and a man who allegedly helped them shake down rare wood poachers in 2012.
Nguyen Hong Ha, Vu Anh Trung, and Tran Le Kien, all former officers at the Son District Police Division were charged with abusing their official positions while Nguyen Thanh Trung, the dismissed vice superintendent of the provincial prison, faces charges of receiving stolen property.
Luan Van Nam, who is not an official, was also charged with “abuse of power” for acting as the officers’ accomplice.
According to the indictment, in September 2012 scores of rare wood hunters gathered around Khanh Son’s Gop Nga Mountain, following rumors that a man had made a fortune by selling a piece of Calambac, a kind of fragrant wood, he found there.
Five people, including four police officers, stood a trial in the central province of Khanh Hoa on June 18 for allegedly stealing rare wood from poachers in 2012. Photo: Nguyen Chung
The district authorities dispatched a team, led by Ha and Anh Trung, to stop the illegal hunt.
On September 26, a group of poachers found a piece of Calambac, creating chaos and prompting Kien to fire a warning shot to bring order to the crowd.
The wood hunters gave the wood to Kien for safekeeping, as they feared that others would steal it.
Following orders from Anh Trung and Ha, Kien did not report the discovery to his superiors and kept it at his home instead.
That same day, Nam also took a piece of wood from another group of hunters, claiming it was for safekeeping. When he encountered Ha, Nam gave the officer the wood and told him that they would share the proceeds of its sale.
The next day Anh Trung and Ha asked Thanh Trung to sell the first piece of wood for a total of VND3.8 billion (US$178,000).
Prosecutors said the hunters who discovered the wood were paid VND1.6 billion ($75,000); the rest was shared among the officers.
On September 30, Thanh Trung helped Nam sell the second piece of Calambac for VND350 million ($16,400) of which Ha pocketed VND330 million ($15,450).
The case was exposed when the wood hunters lodged complaints against the officers in November of the same year.
So far, the local authorities have retrieved VND1.62 billion ($75,880) from the defendants and related people.
Calambac is the dark resinous heartwood that forms in Aquilaria crassna (Agar Wood) trees when they become infected with a specific type of mold. It commands premium prices because it is believed to bring good luck to its owner, if not the finder, and to have the capacity to treat several incurable diseases.
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