Hanoian jailed for logging endangered trees

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A man in Hanoi was sentenced to nine years in jail Wednesday for hiring people to cut down protected sua trees along a city street.

Nguyen Xuan Tuan, 25, not only recruited loggers but also himself prepared saws, axes and ropes, and hired trucks to carry the trees, judges said at the close of the three-day trial at Hanoi People's Court. His underlings were also sentenced to hail.

Tuan earned VND43 million (US$2,250) for himself from the VND307 million ($16,000) worth of the trees he had his 34 men chop down. The gang also stole potted plants worth more than VND260 million ($13,600) in total from residents' homes.

Accomplices Nguyen Dang Manh, Dao Trong Son and Pham Van Dung each got four years and a half in jail. Manh and Son helped Tuan plan the heists while Dung was the lookout man and/or logger in 14 out of the 38 cases.

Dao Van Dang got three years for stealing and one year for consuming stolen property. Dang is serving three years of probation for stealing in a different case.

Many members of the ring got 12-15 months of probation, shorter sentences than those suggested by prosecutors earlier. Judges said they had committed a crime for the first time and they had "sincerely" confessed their involvement in the crime.

Some were let go after the trial as they were sentenced the jail terms equal to the time they have been detained since September last year.

Most of the accused had turned themselves in.

They defendants were also asked to pay compensation for the trees they had chopped down. They had sold the wood for around VND1.9 million ($99.48) a kilogram, police said. The buyers have not been identified.

From October 2007 to September last year, the gang had logged sua (Dalbergia tonkinensis prain) in Hanoi and nearby provinces. The trees were all municipal property.

Some of the trees were dozens of years old. One tree of more than a hundred years, cut down in front of the Tram Pagoda in Chuong My District, Hanoi, was sold for VND17 million.

Sua is listed as an endangered species in Vietnam and is also mentioned on several international endangered species lists.

Despite the ban on the wood's trade for commercial purposes, sua is felled in Vietnam for its aromatic and medicinal properties. It is believed to cure a host of diseases and is supposedly highly effective in aiding psychiatric treatment.

Sua is being threatened by severe habitat loss. It is found only in Vietnam and China.

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