Bio Diversity Cultural and National Heritage Protection Branch of Sri Lanka Customs(BCNP) has successfully thwarted illegal attempt by international crime syndicates while in the process of transshipment, large stock of Rosewood ( Dalbergia spp) logs alleged to have smuggled from an east African country. There are 3669 logs weighing 420 Metric tons valued at US $7,000,000, (LKR 1,000 millions). Detained containers are to be examined by Customs BCNP officers with the participation of DGC at Greyline II Customs examination terminal Grandpas.
Officers of BCNP of SL Customs had information that smuggling operations of Rosewood from African countries through sea routes passing Sri Lankan waters by international racketeers. Therefore during last two months period Officers of BCNP has been vigilant on suspected ship movements from African countries touching Sri Lankan ports en route to far eastern countries. With the reception of information of international origin officers intensified their surveillance and as a result they were able to locate four containers out of six containers given in that information and detection of additional 24 containers of same contraband from the same source making whole detection into 28 containers. .This achievement is one of the most difficult challenge encountered by international enforcement agencies so far. World Customs Organization (WCO) and International police organization (INTERPOL) United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has been trying for several years to tackle this international illegal activity without any result due to the support received by international criminal elements from some countries involved in this very lucrative business. Illegal trading of highly endangered trees like Rosewood, Ebony, Sandalwood and Red sanders is one of internationally banned activities like drugs trafficking, human smuggling and weapon business etc. International mafia movements and terrorist organizations are involved in these criminal activities. Therefore international enforcement agencies like WCO, Interpol and UNEP have deployed their resources and experts in most affected regions to support member countries to tackle these problems. The detection by S L customs is the largest detection ever made by any boarder agency against international illegal trade operations of Rose Wood .
Director General of Customs is empowered to enforce the law on any consignment (even transshipment)in accordance with powers vested on him by customs ordinance and international convention such as Convention on International Trading of Endangered Species (CITES) ,Montreal protocol ,Basel convention on movement of hazardous chemicals ,Stockholm agreement on weapons of mass destructions etc.
Agreement relevant to trading of Rose wood logs is CITES . Sri Lanka is signatory to this international convention. Rosewood happens to be in the appendix II of this Convention in which international trading is allowed only on permits issued by local authority concerned. Limited quantity is granted as an annual quota for source countries in order to restrict the heavy trading so that this rare tropical tree can be saved from over exploitation. In view of being signatory to CITES convention Sri Lanka Customs has an obligation to act on any information provided regarding illegal trading activities involving commodities listed in this convention.
Rosewood is considered as one of the most valuable tropical hardwood that is found in Madagascar, East Africa, and Brazil and south East Asian countries. Rose wood found in Madagascar has more demand than the same of other origins. This tree has very long maturity period nearly 300 years to become a tree having eight inches diameter. Felling rosewood trees for its timber has become environment issue in Madagascar and nearby east African countries threatening ecological balance of these countries and threat of extinction of this rare tree from their forest .Therefore cutting and trading of rosewood is banned in Madagascar. Destruction of precious tropical forest cover of Madagascar has become not only an environment issue but political and human welfare issue in that country still threatening the political stability of that highly bio diversity hot spot of the world. Rosewood has very high demand in international market for manufacturing high end furniture, musical instruments, ornaments etc.
This unprecedented detection was successfully made under the able direction of DGC Mr. Jagath P. Wijeweera, Director of Customs (Social Protection Directorate) Mr. M.Paskaran and Deputy Director of Customs BCNP branch Mr Samantha Gunasekare. Further investigations are carried out by team of officers attached to BCNP unit ,namely Superintendent of Customs R.D.A.M.G.Niyarepola, Deputy Superintendents of Customs Mr Jayalal Fernando, Ms 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 investigation.
Imported live birds forfeited :
Officers attached to Biodiversity, Cultural and National Heritage Protection Division (BCNP) uncovered an attempt to smuggle a consignment of live birds in to the country on 10.02.2012
The consignment included species which were vulnerable to avian influence as the birds were imported from the street market of Bangkok while the approvals for the consignment from relevant authorities were not available.
After the customs inquiry conducted 121 birds were imported through this consignment was handed over to the Department of National Zoological Gardens after forfeiture Rs 450,000, penalty was imposed on the offender. Goods were valued at $1130 (Rs. 120,000) actual value is Rs. 13.6 million is a valuation fraud.
This is a violation of Fauna & Flora Protection Ordinance and also quarantine approval from the Department of Animal Production & health and was given only for a part of the shipment.
Illegal transporting of Elephant Tusks:
Illegal transporting of Elephant Tusks Sri Lanka Customs was able to detain 359 numbers of elephant tusks, weighted 1.5 Metric tons. This shipment was scheduled to export from Kenya to Dubai, through Sri Lanka. The following photographs illustrate the views of detained consignment.They were declared as "Ploythene waste".
Sandalwood trader nabbed :
Attempt to smuggle out the “sandalwood” pieces concealed inside four (04) traveling bags of beetle leaves by a Pakistani national was detained by the officers of the Biodiversity, Cultural and National Heritage Protection Division (BCNP) at departure terminal of the Bandaranaka International Airport, Katunayake.
Total weighing of the Sandalwood amounted to 128.9 kg and was valued to be LKR 193,950.00. At the customs inquiry conducted, goods were forfeited and a penalty of LKR 100,00.00 was imposed on the offender since the said attempt is a violation of Fauna & Flora Protection Ordinance and Forest Ordinance.
Indian Pangolin smuggling attempt intercepted by BCNP officers:
An Indian who attempted to smuggle a rare species of Sri Lanka “Indian Pangolin”(Manis crasssicaudata) scutes weighing more than 02 kg to India was nabbed at the Bandaranayake International Airport (BIA) by the customs officers attached to Biodiversity, Cultural and National Heritage Protection Division (BCNP), on 12/11/2012.
Investigation revealed the suspect had traveled between India and Sri Lanka on hundred times during the past two years.
According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), it is prohibited to trade these endangered animals as the species included in Appendix I.
Indian Pangolin was forfeited and a penalty of LKR 50,000.00 was imposed on the offender since the said attempt is a violation of Fauna & Flora Protection Ordinance and Forest Ordinance and Customs Ordinance.
999 Live Lobsters set free:
Officers attached to the Biodiversity, Cultural and National Heritage Protection Division (BCNP) intercepted an attempt to export a consignment of live lobsters to Hong Kong without a valid license issued for the exportation by the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources at Air Cargo Village, Katunayaka on 10.02.2012. The consignment included 999 live lobsters in 26 boxes weighing 486 Kg with a declared value of Rs 394,201.80.
As per the information revealed at the Customs inquiry, about one third of the shipment contained lobsters which were less than the permitted size for exportation. Further, there were egg bearing live lobsters that are prohibited from exporting.
As the said shipment violated the Customs Ordinance read with Lobster Fisheries Management regulations issued under Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act, the live lobsters were relaeased to the sea at the Port of Colombo. Further, the exporter was imposed a penalty of Rs.100,000.00.
In four occasions six Sri Lankans who attempted to smuggle out ancient coins, ornaments, and various other items of historical values belonging to the Polonnaruwa reign and periods of Dutch, Portuguese and British rule, by concealing in their baggage were arrested on 27/09/2012 at the Bandaranaike International Airport by the customs authorities. Attempted to smuggle 665 coins and jewellery foreign and local coins used in Polonnaruwa, Portuguese and Dutch periods. Ancient waist chains, necklaces, Rings, Pins used on women’s clothes, spoons and several more items were also among the items in custody.
Above mentioned items was forfeited and a penalty of LKR 10,00.00 was imposed on the offenders Since, taking out the items out of the country which carry an archaeological value as determine by the Director General of the Department of Archeology, without the valid license/ permit issued by the said an authority is an offense in terms of the Customs Ordinance read with provisions of the Antiquities Ordinance.