Sun, Nov 25, 2012 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Rare hardwood sparks gunfights, corruption

‘TREE LAUNDERING’:Loggers, smugglers and activists are dying — literally — for rosewood, which eventually ends up as Chinese furniture, US guitars or billiard cues

AP, KOH KONG, Cambodia

Some rosewood makes its way to the US and Europe. A number of Chinese Web sites offer rosewood products to Western customers.

US authorities in 2009 and last year raided the Tennessee plants of the Gibson Guitar Corp, seizing US$500,000 worth of imported ebony and rosewood that was to be used in fingerboards. Gibson paid US$350,000 in penalties in August to settle federal charges of illegally importing ebony, but rosewood was not part of the charges.

Environmental groups suspect many such rosewood sales violate US and EU laws.

“I would be very interested to see how American and European outlets prove that the products they are selling come from legally felled wood,” said Doherty of the EIA, which has been investigating the rosewood trade for several years. “In countries with widespread corruption and fraud, you need an independent monitor on the ground and that is not happening. When I look at products in American stores, I have my doubts.”

In recent years, Chinese companies have begun building dams in Koh Kong, making inroads into one of the region’s largest tracts of wilderness, and Cambodian logging groups were awarded licenses to log out areas the dams will flood.

According to foreign conservationists and the Cambodian human rights group LICADHO, which has investigators in Koh Kong, the work created an opportunity for “tree laundering.” They say logging companies falsified documents to make it appear their wood came from permitted areas when it was actually harvested up to 50km away.

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