Hanoi village collectively abets illegal logging of precious tree

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Police in Hanoi on Thursday said they have caught a truck carrying many logs of sua, an engangered tree species, worth more than US$1 million.


Investigations on Friday showed that the tree was taken with the help of a whole village in the city.


Driver Nguyen Van Duc, 25, was transporting more than 2.5 cubic meters of the tree for Nguyen Van Thai, 35, and Nguyen Thanh Long, 34, on Monday.


The owners, both from nearby Bac Ninh Province, said they bought the wood from a man named Dinh Cong Thuong in Hanoi for more than VND20 billion.


Thai and Long said the wood came from a tree that fell due to heavy rains at a pagoda in Phu Chinh village of Hanoi's Chuong My District. But police found evidence of sawing.


Vu Van Xuyen, a villager, on Friday said the village had established a group to collect sua wood with 22 members and the commune officials, including forest rangers, were informed of it.


Xuyen said the arrangement was that Thuong, the man selling the wood in the latest case, has a son working at a bank, so those who buy the wood will deposit money in his bank account and the village will decide together when to withdraw the money.


But Le Van Bay, chairman of the commune, said he was only informed that the village would chop down two sandalwood, a popular tree for wood.


However, the village later turned to asking for collecting broken sua branches and the commune had not agreed to the later request, Bay said.


Police said are investigating the case further.


The government has banned the use of sua (Dalbergia tonkinensis prain) timber for commercial purposes.


In 2007, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development also issued a prohibition on personal collection of parts of sua trees, either wild or planted.


But the high demand for sua wood for decoration and medical purposes in China was driving illegal felling and trade in the tree.


In April, 35 people in Hanoi received jail sentences of 18 months to nine years for stealing sua trees, but another tree was felled in the city just several days later.


Sua furniture is highly favored in China, and demand has increased in recent years among the nouveau riche seeking the prestige of having furniture made of precious and rare wood.


Prices offered for Vietnamese sua have increased constantly. From 2.5 million yuan ($366,000) a cubic meter in November 2007, it had surged to more than $578,000 a cubic meter early this year and supply was dwindling further.


Sua is found mostly in Vietnam and China and a few are found in India and Africa.

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