Customs bust world’s largest rosewood  smuggling operation

24 container loads from East Africa seized


Text and Pix By Jude Denzil Pathiraja

Sri Lanka Customs yesterday set a record by busting a huge international Rosewood smuggling operation. They detected 420 MT of the rare timber meant for transshipment.

The detection is said to be the largest ever made by any border agency against international Rosewood smuggling.

Director General of Customs Jagath Wijeweera addressing media at the Greyline II Customs  examination terminal, Grandpass said the detection had been made by the Bio Diversity Cultural and National Heritage Protection Branch of Sri Lanka Customs. He said that the large stock comprising 3,669 Rosewood (Dalbergia) logs weighing 420 MT had been smuggled from an east African country. The value of the contraband was placed at USD 7,000,000, (Rs. 1,000 million).

"Rosewood is considered one of the most valuable tropical hardwoods that are found in Madagascar, East Africa, Brazil and south East Asia. Rosewood found in Madagascar has a greater demand than the same of other origins. This tree has very long maturity period nearly 300 years to grow into an eight-inch diameter. Felling rosewood trees for its timber has become environment issue in Madagascar and nearby east African countries and it threatened ecological balance of these countries," he said.

Deputy Director of Customs Samantha Gunasekara said the officers of the Bio Diversity Cultural and National Heritage Protection Branch (BCNP) had been tipped off about smuggling of Rosewood from African countries via Sri Lankan ports. During last two months period Officers of BCNP had been keeping a watchful eye on suspected vessel movements from African countries touching Sri Lankan ports en route to Far East. Acting on information of international origin, officers had intensified their surveillance and as a result they had been able to locate four containers out of six mentioned in the tip-off and the detection of additional 24 containers of same contraband from the same source had increased the number of containers to 28, he said. "Rosewood has very high demand in international market for manufacturing high end furniture, musical instruments, ornaments etc." he said.

Further investigations are being carried out by a team of officers attached to BCNP unit, namely Superintendent of Customs R. D. A. M. G. Niyarepola, Deputy Superintendents of Customs Jayalal Fernando, Priyanthi Wijenayake and Assistant Superintendents of Customs Thilanka Samaraweera, Dilan Weerarathna, Shahan Jayasinghe, Daminda Jayasinghe, Ashanka Wanninayake, Gayan Wijayagunarathna, Samantha Pushpakumara and Kithsiri Atapattu and Customs Inspectors Chamindu Gayashan and Ms. Ruwani Rupasinghe are actively engaged in assisting in investigations.

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