In Malaysia this week, four forestry department officials, including the director, an officer and two rangers, were arrested for taking a $30,000 bribe. In exchange, they allegedly awarded illegal logging concessions. Malaysia has prized hardwoods growing in protected areas in and around its rain forests. The arrests came after an investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. According to the Malaysia Star (here), more than $100,000 in cash was seized from the house of the forestry department director, who “is said to be a millionaire.” The anti-corruption team is now investigating the sources of his wealth. He and the other suspects are being held “to assist in investigations.” So far this year, Malaysian authorities have made 23 arrests in 21 cases of illegal logging.
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The NGO Global Witness has investigated illegal logging in several Southeast Asian countries. For example, in late 2006, its investigators posed as buyers at flooring companies. Thirteen out of 14 lumber suppliers they talked to in China said they could obtain timber from Burma across the land border despite import restrictions. Chinese companies export timber throughout the world, including to Europe and America. Global Witness said some U.S.-based companies still advertise Burmese wood flooring on their websites even though the Lacey Act now bans commerce in illegally obtained timber and wood products.
“This is just part of a wider problem,” Global Witness said. “Half of China’s timber imports from all countries are probably illegal and China accounts for roughly a quarter of all illegal timber being traded internationally. . . . This has a knock-on effect for other countries. For example, the U.K. imports more illegal timber than any other EU country because it buys so much from China.”
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The United States has banned several Cambodian officials from entering the country because of their complicity in illegal logging. The 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act included a requirement that the U.S. Secretary of State keep a running list of foreign government officials and their family members who have been involved in corruption relating to the extraction of natural resources in their countries. The law requires the State Department to designate individuals on the list as ineligible for United States visas under Presidential Proclamation 7750 (see our post here). In June 2007, Global Witness published details about corrupt ties among Cambodian timber barons and Prime Minister Hun Sen, his wife, and other senior officials.
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According to Transparency International (here), illegal cutting represents as much as 80 percent of the total lumber production in some countries. “Estimates suggest that almost $2.5 billion worth of stolen timber is traded between East and South Asian countries each year. Around the world, annual losses from illegal logging on public lands have been estimated at over $10 billion by the World Bank.”
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Back in Malaysia, the government announced this week that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Academy will receive training assistance from Interpol. The head of the Malaysian commission said, “Corruption is no longer a local matter to contain. It has become a global issue. With globalization and the world now being borderless where every country is doing business with every other country, unchecked corruption can pose a threat to integrity in all countries, thus giving a new meaning to the term cross-border corruption.” Interpol is the world’s largest international police organization, with 188 member countries. Malaysia ranks 47th on the Corruption Perception Index, tied with Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Hungary, and Jordan.
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