Police in the northern province of Thanh Hoa on Saturday arrested a provincial forest ranger who allegedly took more than US$4,700 worth of bribe from a rare wood trafficker.
Le Duc Hai, head of the mobile rangers division of Thanh Hoa Forest Management Department, was arrested as undercover police caught him receiving bags of money from the trafficker at the door of his office.
A group of armed police officers had stormed the building on Friday night. They had grilled a number of rangers from the division over the night before detaining Hai.
They spent hours searching before they seized VND10 million (US$471) from Hai’s room, two bags of uncounted cash at the building and a van allegedly carrying rare wood.
Radio Voice of Vietnam said initial investigation found the bags contained VND100 million ($4,710) that Hai had demanded in exchange for letting the alleged traffickers go.
When the police rushed in and caught Hai in the act, he allegedly threw the money and ran up the second floor of the building, where he was handcuffed.
All penalty documents issued by the division dating to the beginning of this year were also collected.
Hai and all the exhibits were reportedly brought to the capital city of Hanoi for further examination.
Thanh Hoa Forest Management Department issued a report Saturday afternoon saying they were tipped off about the wood van at around 9:30 p.m. on Thursday that it was traveling from the neighboring Nghe An Province through Thanh Hoa.
Hai’s team was assigned to track down the van.
They spotted the van on Friday morning and pulled it over for inspection.
The van’s driver produced several invoices certified by forest rangers in Nghe An which described the shipment as “cam lai” (from Dalbergia genus), which is among the most precious wood species in Vietnam.
But the team found a further 1.52 cubic meters of “giang huong” (Burma Padauk), another kind of rare wood that was not listed in the papers.
On Friday evening when Hai and his deputy came back to their office to make reports on the case, the wood owner only identified as Nguyen also showed up.
Police officers managed to catch the receiving of the money by masquerading as passengers in the area.
Further investigations would be underway, police said.
Figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development released in December 2011 showed Vietnam lost nearly 32,000 hectares of forests every year, including 60 percent to cultivation purpose, industrial zones, hydro-power and irrigation projects, and 6 percent to illegal logging.