Vietnamese police chief gets 10 years for shaking down rare wood poachers

By Nguyen Chung, Thanh Nien News

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Four former police officials and a local resident standing trial for involving in selling rare wood seized from poachers. Photo: Nguyen Chung Four former police officials and a local resident standing trial for involving in selling rare wood seized from poachers. Photo: Nguyen Chung

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A Khanh Hoa court  sentenced a former district police chief to ten years in prison on Friday for seizing and selling tens of thousands of dollars worth of poached aromatic wood in 2012.
The Khanh Son District People’s Court found Nguyen Thanh Trung, former district police chief, guilty of receiving stolen property.
Three of Trung's former subordinates were convicted of having abused their official positions during the execution of their duties; one civilian was jailed for colluding with them in the crime.
Nguyen Hong Ha, former district traffic police chief, and Vu Anh Trung, former district economic and environment police chief, were each sentenced to five and a half years in prison.
Tran Le Kien, former vice chief of the Khanh Son Criminal Verdict Enforcement Branch, was sentenced to five years.
Luan Van Nam, a local resident, got three years in jail.
According to the verdict, Trung’s three subordinates seized a hunk of Calambac, a rare fragrant wood, from two poachers on September 26, 2012 and later sold it.
On the same day, they caught Nam poaching the rare wood and asked him to split any profits he made from its sale with them.
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 that discovered the wood were paid VND1.6 billion ($75,000); the rest was shared among the officers.
On September 30, Thanh Trung helped Nam (the poacher) sell a second piece of Calambac for VND350 million ($16,400) of which Ha pocketed VND330 million ($15,450).
The case was exposed when the poachers filed complaints against the officers in November of the same year.
During their trial, Thanh Trung and Nam pleaded innocent; the other three admitted to their crime and asked for lenient sentences.
The court said that despite Thanh Trung's claim to innocence, there was evidence that indicated he had discussed the matter with his co-defendants at a café in the district and had fenced the stolen wood.
According to the official indictment, when police began investigating the group, Thanh Trung advised everyone to make inaccurate confessions, causing difficulties during the investigation.
Prosecutors had called for jail terms of 8-9 years against Thanh Trung, saying his crimes represented a serious violation of the law.
He never revealed any aspect of his role in the crime during the investigation and prosecution.
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 and to have the capacity to treat several incurable diseases.

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