Officials steal precious wood from hunters in central Vietnam

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A man finds a small piece of Calambac - a rare fragrant wood during a rush for the wood in the central province of Khanh Hoa last month

Police in the central province of Khanh Hoa are investigating a case in which officials allegedly abused their power to deprive some people of a precious fragrant wood they found during a wood rush last month. 

A senior Khanh Son District official who wished to stay unnamed told Thanh Nien that the officials had submitted more than VND1 billion (US$47,400) that they claimed to have earned from selling Calambac - the dark resinous heartwood that forms in Aquilaria crassna (Agar Wood) trees when they become infected with a type of mold.

However, the names of the involved officials as well as the total money they earned could not be revealed as the case was still under investigation, he said.

Initial information is that the officials have been accused of confiscating the precious wood when assigned by district authorities on September 21 to stop thousands of people from entering a local forest to find the wood.

Several wood hunters said that the officials allowed them to continue hunting and later convinced them to hand over the rare wood by promising to share with them earnings from selling the wood.

According to the hunters, they gave the officials some 1.5 kilograms of the wood, but were yet to receive any money as being promised.

It is reported that the suspected officials were members of a joint-force made of 18 officials from the district's police, forest rangers and other local related agencies.

The Calambac rush was triggered around the middle of last month by an unconfirmed report of a man earning tens of billions of dong after selling some kilograms of wood he found there.

At that time, between 400 and 500 people from nearby provinces like Quang Nam and Quang Ngai were reportedly entering the forest every day to search for the precious wood. They divided areas among them in the forest, logging trees, including big ones with trunks of between 30-50 centimeters in diameter. An area of around 2,000 square meters was dug up.

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However, most of the hunters left after running out of food and money, finding nothing. Some people were reported to have found small pieces of the precious wood.

According to experts, Calambac demands premium prices because it is believed to bring good luck to its owner, if not the finder, and to have the capacity to treat some incurable diseases.

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