Vietnamese workers get prison time for poaching cypress burls

03/27/2022 06:48 PM
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Photo courtesy of the Nantou Forest District Office
Photo courtesy of the Nantou Forest District Office

Taipei, March 27 (CNA) Two Vietnamese migrant workers have been sentenced to one year and four months in prison and fined NT$3 million (US$104,424) each for cutting of a truckload of knots from protected cypress trees in Taiwan, according to a court verdict issued Sunday.

The men, surnamed Võ (武) and Phan (潘), were arrested in November 2020 after police caught them transporting the wood cuttings in a mountainous area in Nantou's Renai Township, the Nantou District Court said in its verdict.

A search of their vehicle uncovered 93 burls, weighing 310 kilograms, which had been cut from endemic Taiwan cypress trees, the court said, adding that the wood cuttings had an estimated value of NT$2.6 million.

A third suspect, surnamed Bùi (裴), was also arrested, but he died before he could be formally charged, the court said, without providing any details. Several other suspects fled the vehicle when it was stopped by police, according to the court.

Burls are knotted growths found on the outside of certain tree species, which are valued for use in furniture and artistic wood carvings due to their unique wood grain patterns.

During the trial, Võ and Phan told the court that Bùi had invited them to go into the mountains but had not explained what they would be doing there, according to the verdict.

Prosecutors argued, however, that the men had taken a little-used road into a densely forested area and proceeded to poach significant quantities of burls.

In its ruling, the court said it had found both men guilty of illegally logging a "precious wood" variety and had sentenced each of them to one year and four months in prison and a fine of NT$3 million (US$104,424).

The ruling can be appealed, according to the court.

Under Article 50 of the Forestry Act, the penalty for stealing forest products or by-products is a prison sentence of six months to five years and a fine of between NT$300,000 and NT$3 million.

If the stolen products are regarded as "precious wood with high economic or ecological value," as determined by the government, the penalty can be increased by half, the law states. Taiwan cypress trees are an endemic protected species classified as "precious."

(By Wu Che-hao and Matthew Mazzetta)


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