Huge International smuggling operation of Rosewood

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.

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