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Carving a niche in the black market

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Carving a niche in the black market | The Thaiger

Special Report

Six men were arrested in November for illegal possession of more than 50 kilograms of eaglewood. One of the men was caught with an illegal .45 handgun under his pillow. Today, those six men roam free, all released on suspended sentences.

Here, the Phuket Gazette‘s Irfarn Jamdukor investigates the island’s illegal logging trade.

PHUKET: Six men were arrested during a morning raid of two neighboring houses near Kathu Municipality Kindergarten on November 18.

Five of them pleaded guilty to illegal possession of eaglewood, resulting in a speedy handing down of an initial sentence of three months in prison and a fine of 2,000 baht per person.

“All of them confessed, so the penalty was reduced to 45 days in prison and a fine of 1,500 baht each,” said an officer at Phuket Provincial Court.

“The judge then suspended the jail terms and ordered the men to one-year probation.”

The men spent the night at Thung Thong Police Station, but were free to go after their sentences were suspended the next day – despite being caught with contraband with a street value of more than 300,000 baht.

As the men were charged under Section 29 of the Forest Act BE 2484 (1941), the maximum penalty could have been up to one year in prison or a fine of up to 10,000 baht, or both, the court officer explained.

The current whereabouts of the men – Wiangchai Srichan, 34; Udon Srichan, 32; Thanad Petrit, 45; Sanan Kodking, 42; and Anucha Somsung, 38 – are unknown.

The sixth man, Wirat Sunsuwan, 38, stood trial on January 20.

Mr Wirat was charged with illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition after officers conducting the raid found an illegal .45 handgun, fully loaded, under his pillow.

“He was sentenced to two years in jail, but the sentence was halved, then commuted to two years’ probation,” said Maj Pramuan Jaikratok of the Thung Thong Police.

NIGHT PATROL

The rising incidence of illegal loggers plundering Phuket’s protected forests has prompted officers to boost patrols up to five times a week, including night patrols.

“Many protected forests in Phuket are logged by different gangs,” Maj Pramnuan explained.

Paisarn Noopichai, chief of the Royal Forest Department (RFD)’s Deforestation Prevention and Suppression office in Phuket noted that three areas were particularly prone to illegal logging: the
Nakkered Hills behind Karon, the hills in Thalang; and the area near the Bang Wad Reservoir in Kathu.

“These gangs stash their illegal wood in houses near the forests or hide it somewhere in the jungle, but it seems none of the gangs know where the other gangs keep their wood,” he said.

IN THE DARK

The November arrests have reinvigorated interest in combating illegal loggers.

“After arresting this gang, we contacted other officers to be on the lookout for illegal logging in protected forest areas,” Maj Pramuan said.

Chief Paisarn revealed that although his teams of officers had arrested five gangs during the past two years, the persistence of the nighttime cutting crews was gnawing at him.

“We are very concerned about this. I believe there are many gangs in Phuket, and in the past two years we have discovered more than 20 large eaglewood trees, as well as ironwood and takien sai trees, felled in protected Phuket forests,” he said.

“These logging gangs operate at night and they separate into teams to scour the forest for trees to fell, which makes it very difficult for us to find them.

“We recently increased the number of our patrols, but we don’t have enough officers to comprehensively protect the forests – which cover huge areas – and we’re trying to find the loggers in the dark, which is not easy.”

What officials did learn from the November raid is that felled wood stashed in the jungle is collected by transport crews who deliver it to customers waiting in Bangkok or other destinations elsewhere in Thailand, or even Malaysia.

“But we have learned nothing about the gangs and the networks of the operators who ply these routes,” Chief Paisarn said.

Col Natthapakin Kwanchaipruk, Superintendent of the Tah Chat Chai Police, confirmed that his officers had yet to make any arrests for lumber trafficking since he took charge of Phuket’s northernmost police station more than a year ago.

“Every truck carrying wood is stopped and checked at the Tah Chat Chai checkpoint,” Col Natthapakin said.

“However, it would be easy to conceal illegal wood in a shipment of regular timber on the back of a truck,” he noted.

LEGACY

Much of the current impetus to target illegal loggers in Phuket stems from the passion of former Kathu District Chief Veera Kerdsirimongkol for protecting the island’s forests.

Current Kathu Chief Sayan Chanachaiwong has vowed to maintain that pressure.

“This is an important issue. We do not want anyone destroying Phuket’s forests,” he said.

“Mr Veera did much good work and left behind many leads that we are still pursuing. Nearly everything I know about illegal logging in Phuket, I learned from him.”

Chief Sayan, however, declined to reveal exactly which investigations were underway.

“We meet with relevant departments each month to learn the latest about the state of illegal logging on the island and to develop strategies to prevent it,” he said.

“We also have volunteers to keep watch in certain areas and we have asked local villagers to inform us if they find any illegal logging in their areas.”

However, Chief Paisarn noted, “Some villagers call in with tip-offs, but many do their best not to anger illegal loggers. After all, these gangs carry guns and knives.”

BLACK MARKET

Chief Paisarn was at pains to point out that 250 species of trees are protected under Thai law, but that eaglewood was the most likely to be targeted by illegal loggers.

“Eaglewood is the main target because the tree can used to make fragrances,” he said.

“Top-quality eaglewood could fetch almost 100,000 baht per kilogram, while the parts of the wood not used to make fragrances can be used to make wooden products.”

Chief Paisarn estimates that the RFD, established specifically to protect natural forests throughout Thailand, knows of only 20 to 30 per cent of the total number of eaglewood trees on the island.

“These trees grow throughout Thailand and are more common in the South… but the number of them is diminishing. That’s why we have to protect them.”

— Irfarn Jamdukor

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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Hua Hin

Southern Thailand braces for rough weather and rain

May Taylor

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Southern Thailand braces for rough weather and rain | The Thaiger

The Thailand Meteorological Department issued a weather warning for southern Thailand with torrential rain forecast to hit the region throughout the weekend. The heavy monsoon over the Gulf of Thailand and south of the country is being blamed for the rough weather, with the TMD predicting flash flooding in many areas.

(Phuket, Hat Yai and Hua Hin’s forecast below)

“Waves are expected to reach 2 metres in height in the lower Gulf of Thailand and possibly higher at the height of the storm. Ships are advised to proceed with caution.”

For the north and northeast of Thailand, the TMD forecasts strong winds and cooler mornings as the arrival of the “winter” season, coupled with a moderate high-pressure system, causes temperatures to dip.

Hua Hin’s five day forecast

Southern Thailand braces for rough weather and rain | News by The Thaiger

Phuket’s five day forecast

Southern Thailand braces for rough weather and rain | News by The Thaiger

Hat Yai’s five day forecast

Southern Thailand braces for rough weather and rain | News by The Thaiger

SOURCE: The Nation | weather.com

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Crime

Now you see him, now you don’t… Patong Police hunt foreigner over $30k theft

Greeley Pulitzer

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Now you see him, now you don’t… Patong Police hunt foreigner over $30k theft | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Patong Police

Patong Police have yet to develop any tangible leads tracking down a foreigner who made off with US$30,000 in cash from a currency exchange booth in Kalim, north of Patong in Phuket, last Tuesday.

The man is about 168 centimetres tall with grey hair and around 60 years old, Patong police told The Phuket News.

“We have no clue what nationality he is.”

He was last seen at the currency exchange booth wearing a purple polo shirt, blue jeans and black cap. Police have checked hotels in the area, police stations across the island and Phuket Immigration, but have yet to join the dots and come up with firm leads.

“Investigators have checked CCTV in the area and collected what evidence we have but we still do not know the man’s name or where he was staying.”

The man had visited the booth several times before Tuesday, when he disappeared with the $30,000 in US banknotes, according to police.

“It was always small amounts”, he added, noting that the amounts didn’t warrant staff at the exchange booth to check the man’s passport before making the exchange.

The man arrived at the booth again at about 1pm on Tuesday, saying that he had 900,000 baht cash to exchange.

SOURCE: The Phuket News

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Crime

Mystery surrounds security guard found dead in his Phuket room

The Thaiger

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Mystery surrounds security guard found dead in his Phuket room | The Thaiger

PHOTOS: Phuket Hot News

The security guard of a hotel in Nai Yang, northern Phuket, 52 year old Yingyot Butsabong, from Maha Sarakham province, was found dead yesterday (October 16) in his room. Police remain mystified how the man came to grief.

A woman named Supattra received a call from the hotel he worked at and was informed that he didn’t show up at work yesterday, so she went to his apartment to check on him.

She saw that his room was locked from the inside, so used the key she had in her possession to open the room and found Yingyot laying on the floor, face down. She thought he was just sleeping so she tried to wake him up but once she flipped him, she found that he already passed away.

She immediately called Saku police, and once on the scene, police found that there was some blood on the floor. The man had a 2 centimetre wound on his left eyebrow which was deep into his skull. There was also a wound on his chin about 1 centimetre long and about a centimetre deep. His left eye had a bruise which looked like he was attacked by a hard object.

Police report that he had been dead for around four hours in the room.

The room was not ransacked and there was no sign of fighting or theft. His body has been sent to Thalang Hospital for a detailed autopsy and to look into the cause of death.

SOURCE: Phuket Hot News

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