More than 3,000 teak logs seized in sting operation

CHIANG MAI: Authorities have confiscated more than 3,000 teak logs estimated to be worth more than 200 million baht and believed to have been smuggled into Thailand from Burma.

A security force led by the Department of Special Investigation seized more than 3,000 teak logs worth about 200 million baht in Chiang Mai. The logs are alleged to have been smuggled into Thailand from Burma through nearby Mae Hong Son. CHEEWIN SATTHA

A joint operation between the Department of Special Investigation, Customs Department and Royal Forestry Department raided two sawmills owned by Suksawat Group Co yesterday and seized the logs.

The operation was carried out following a complaint from Justice Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga that a company had imported teak wood illegally from Burma through Mae Hong Son.

DSI deputy chief Narat Savetnant alleged Anton Co had falsely declared the confiscated logs to the Customs Office in Mae Hong Son as sawn timber using 57 documents that claimed the imports had been approved by Burmese officials.

The import documents were later found to be counterfeit, Mr Narat said.

The crackdown has raised questions over whether local officials responsible for approving the import of the confiscated wood were aware of the company’s activities.

No charges have been made against officials but they will face an inquiry to determine if they had anything to do with the illegal wood imports and whether they should take responsibility, Mr Narat said.

The DSI unit which investigates special criminal cases in the North has been looking into the case since February. It had learned by September that Anton Co had imported sawn teak from Burma under suspicious circumstances.

The company owner was charged by the DSI with violating regulations on the import of sawn timber.

Anton Co said last month it was considering suing the Forestry Department for refusing to renew its licence to transport teak logs from Burma through Salawin National Park in Mae Hong Son.

Phichet Lertlum-umphaiwong, the company’s deputy managing director, said its permission to transport teak expired a month ago and the department had refused to renew it, even though it had previously been renewed on a yearly basis.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti claimed at the time that the company did not have an export licence from Burma and no source-of-origin documents to prove where the logs came from. Anton Co insisted legal documents were issued by Myanmar Timber Enterprise, the government-owned corporation and sole extractor of timber in Burma.