Corrupt Vietnam Gov’t officials cashing in on massive timber theft from Cambodia
LONDON: Corrupt Government officials and military personnel in Vietnam are complicit in smuggling huge quantities of illegal timber from Cambodia, a new report reveals.
Those involved are pocketing millions of dollars in bribes from timber smugglers for their part in allowing hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of logs stolen from Cambodia’s National Parks to be laundered into Vietnam’s voracious timber economy.
The revelations are featured in the new report ‘Repeat Offender: Vietnam’s persistent trade in illegal timber’ from the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), released just days before Vietnam and the European Union (EU) are due initial an agreement seeking to ensure only legal timber is exported from Vietnam.
EIA Senior Forests Campaigner Jago Wadley said: “This is the single largest log-smuggling operation that we have seen for years. Vietnam must address this weak approach to any agreement with the EU to combat illegal logging and the associated trade.
“Any Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade, or FLEGT, agreement that does not address the fundamental issues which Vietnam is currently ignoring will result in a fundamentally flawed agreement.”
Cambodia has a log export ban in place and in early 2016 closed its border with Vietnam to timber. However, from November 2016 to March 2017 undercover EIA investigators discovered illegal logging on unprecedented scales, including in Community Protected Areas (CPAs) in Virachey and Ou Ya Dav national parks and in Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary – protected areas in Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province, some of which are funded by the EU.
But instead of rejecting this illegal wood, Vietnamese state and security officials have issued and administered formal quotas which give it lawful status in Vietnam’s economy, directly facilitating massive illegal logging in Cambodia even as the latter is publicly seeking to stop all timber trade with Vietnam.
Not only are Vietnamese officials corruptly profiting but so too is the Vietnamese state, formally taxing the illegal traffic of logs and so effectively taking a cut of the criminal businesses it has sanctioned.
Vietnamese timber traders pay millions of dollars in bribes to Cambodian officials to open up logging areas and smuggling routes in Cambodia; they told undercover investigators how they also have to pay bribes of up to $45 a cubic metre to Vietnamese officials, including the Chairman of Gia Lai Provincial People’s Committee, customs and border army personnel in return for quotas allowing them to import into Vietnam.
Approximately 300,000m3 of logs have been smuggled out of Cambodia and laundered in Vietnam under these quotas; kickbacks are likely to have amounted to more than $13 million since the beginning of November 2016.
When it comes to timber theft, Vietnam has significant previous form – until 2015, hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of logs a year flowed into the country in open violation of Laos’ log export ban, a traffic that stopped only when Laos’ new Prime Minister banned all raw timber exports.
Wadley added: “Vietnamese State involvement in multi-million-dollar transnational organised timber crime simply cannot be accepted by the international community and absolutely must not be ignored by the EU.”
- Interviews are available on request; please contact Jago Wadley via jagowadley[at]eia-international.org or telephone +44 (0) 20 7354 7960
- The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is a UK- and Washington DC-based Non-Governmental Organisation that investigates and campaigns against a wide range of environmental crimes, including illegal wildlife trade, illegal logging, hazardous waste and trade in climate- and ozone-altering chemicals.
- Read & download Repeat Offender: Vietnam’s persistent trade in illegal timber at https://eia-international.org/wp-content/uploads/Repeat-Offender.pdf