Vientiane Times, February 17, 2015
The illegal trade in timber topped all cases uncovered in 2014 by the economic police or police in charge of economic-case affairs, an official report showed. In 2014, the economic police registered 391 illegal cases nationwide including 169 that involved the illegal trade of timber, which made it top of the list. Fraud in relation to citizens’ assets was the runner up with 124 cases recorded over the year, according to a local newspaper published by the Ministry of Public Security. The 391 total saw a drop of 36 compared to the total cases registered in 2013, according to the newspaper, citing a report presented at the annual meeting of the economic police held last week.
Over the last year, 98 accused people involved in the cases were detained including 27 females. Of the total cases, 305 were completely resolved. Of the 169 involving timber, 160 were successfully addressed. Some 76 cases involving fraud of citizens’ assets were also completely resolved. Total loss in cash amounted to more than 83.1 billion kip. In addition, 646 mobile phones, 13 vehicles and other objects were seized. But only just over 5.9 billion kip of the lost cash was recovered along with 37,392 lengths of processed wood and 1,681 logs. Illegal trade in timber has topped economic cases in recent years, despite the government’s efforts to address the issue. In 2013, some 257 cases involving the illegal trading of timber were discovered, topping the year’s list of fraud or economic-related cases.
The 2014 report highlights the fact that illegal trading and logging continues to be a pressing problem in Laos. It has been reported that illegal logging in Laos is being spurred on by neighbouring countries’ timber demand. Most commonly smuggled timbers are rosewood and other hardwoods, due to their high value. China is one of the major consumers of timber in the region, importing a large amount from Mekong countries including Laos. The New York Times recently quoted the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) as saying that from 2000-13, China imported a total of 3.5 million cubic metres of hongmu [redwood] timber. It said nearly half of China’s hongmu imports since 2000 – amounting to 1,666,471 cubic metres valued at nearly US$2.4 billion – came from the Mekong region.
A senior forestry official who asked not be named said there were several ways illegal loggers operate, including hiring villagers to cut down trees and sell them to traders .In many cases these illegal activities are facilitated by or directly involve corrupt government officials. Some traders spend a lot of money hiring officials to facilitate the movement of timber from forests to other provinces