Environmental investigators expose illegal timber smuggling by Vietnam

By agency reporter
June 3, 2018

A year after the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) exposed how corrupt Government officials and military personnel in Vietnam are complicit in smuggling huge quantities of illegal timber from Cambodia, new investigations reveal the industrial-scale theft continues.

The ongoing theft, timber laundering and smuggling operations in Cambodia and Vietnam are exposed in London-based EIA’s new report Serial Offender.

EIA investigators have identified three key areas in Cambodia where illegal logging is occurring on an immense scale. In two of these, companies are using existing permits to launder their timber. Meanwhile, logging in the protected Virachey National Park is occurring with no pretence of legality – and under the direct protection of corrupt Cambodian military personnel and forest rangers.

Vast amounts of timber are being illegally smuggled into Vietnam, with hundreds of trucks avoiding official border gates and Cambodian customs checks. Cambodia has numerous timber export bans in place, including a specific ban on timber trade with Vietnam dating from 2016, and is also responsible for this forest crime

Jago Wadley, EIA Senior Forests Campaigner, said: “Vietnam has a long history of stealing timber from its neighbours. In Cambodia, Vietnamese companies have initiated illegal logging operations in a national park, paying corrupt border police and forest rangers to provide protection from prying eyes.”

Vietnam is currently preparing to sign and ratify a Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union. This is expected to pave the way for Vietnamese timber exports to comply with EU laws.

But as Vietnam drafts legislation to address its imports of illegal timber, at the same time hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of illegal timber continues to flow unhindered across its borders.

Despite clear evidence of illegal harvest and export, much of this timber is inspected by Vietnamese customs agents and effectively ‘legalised’ into the Vietnamese economy.

Serial Offender raises concerns about the ability and will of relevant agencies in Vietnam to meet its proposed commitments and clean up its market.

“Vietnam’s insatiable hunger for cheap timber continues to undermine forest governance in neighbouring countries. The current Vietnamese system, where blatantly illegal timber is accepted into the economy is fundamentally incompatible with the commitments it has made in its VPA with the EU and must radically change to prevent this agreement from failing,” said Wadley.

“Vietnam needs to show it has the political will to address the illicit flow of timber by enforcing now – not after it has ratified and signed the VPA. There will never be a functioning VPA until this illicit traffic stops.”

* Read the Serial Offender report here or a summary here

* The Environmental Investigation Agency investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses  https://eia-international.org/


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