More than 800 kilograms of rosewood were confiscated in Kampong Thom’s Sandan district yesterday in what a Forestry Administration official said was the district’s first seizure of the UN-protected species in years.
Provincial Forestry Administration director Teb Nhata said a total of 175 rosewood logs were discovered on a plantation by Forestry Administration officials on Tuesday. The owner of the plantation was called in for questioning, but Nhata said he claimed to be unaware of the timber and was later released.
“We haven’t found the owner of the timber yet, which means it was abandoned for fear of arrest,” Nhata said, adding that local authorities have been asked to join the hunt for the owner.
Sandan district FA office chief Sao Vanny said it had been some years since rosewood had been seen in the district, and that he suspected it had been brought from another province to be stored on the plantation while a buyer was found for it.
Provincial director Nhata noted that the market value of rosewood is on the rise, although he could not recall the exact price.
Rosewood was certified a protected species under the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in March 2013.
However, a report released by British NGO the Environmental Investigation Agency earlier this month found rosewood exports from Cambodia have continued unabated, despite being pushed underground after its certification.
Countries party to CITES are obliged to submit annual reports of imports and exports of CITES-certified species to the convention’s secretariat in Geneva. Those reports are then logged in the CITES database, which shows more than eight thousand cubic metres of rosewood being exported from Cambodia in 2013 and 2014.
Suon Phalla, an officer at the CITES Management Authority of Cambodia, which sits within the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, maintained in emails this week that his office has issued no rosewood export permits since June 2013.
Copies of Cambodia’s CITES reports for 2013 and 2014 appear to corroborate his statement, showing just two rosewood trees exported to Canada in 2013.
Asked to explain the discrepancy between the report and the database, Phalla insisted the Cambodian government was not to blame. “All timbers are illegally exported; if any CITES permits [were] used they must be counterfeited permits.”
Phalla did not respond to questions as to whether the Agriculture Ministry would investigate the origin of the counterfeit permits, but he did say he would raise the issue with the CITES secretariat.