12 agarwood thieves held

IPOH - Twelve people, including 10 foreigners, have been caught for the theft of gaharu (agarwood) in Gerik, about 200km from here.

Perak Forestry Department director Datuk Roslan Ariffin said the 12 men, aged between 25 and 35, were caught between Feb 20 and 22 for possessing several gunny sacks of gaharu, worth between RM400,000 (S$154,000) and RM2mil.

"On Feb 20, the Anti-Smuggling Unit (UPP) launched an operation at the Sungai Lebey Bandariang R&R where they found four foreigners carrying four gunny sacks at about 1pm.

"Upon inspection, we found them to be carrying about 90kg of gaharu. They were arrested immediately and handed over to us," he told a press conference here yesterday.

"On Feb 22, the UPP was patrolling along the Gerik-Jeli East West Highway when they chanced upon a four-wheel-drive vehicle driven by a foreigner heading towards Gerik at about 4.30pm."

Roslan said gaharu was also found in the vehicle.

He added that another patrolling team, consisting of the Wildlife and National Parks Department, Royal Belum State Park and the World Wildlife Foundation, discovered two vehicles exiting from an old logging road near Sungai Mendelum on Feb 22 at 8.30pm.

"The patrolling team tailed the two vehicles to Bersia before stopping them for inspection," he said, adding that seven gunny sacks of gaharu and harvesting equipment were found.

"The team arrested seven people, including two Malaysians," he said, adding that there had been eight such cases since 2011.

Roslan said the gaharu were sought-after in the Middle East market.

"The gaharu can be processed to become joss sticks and perfume," he said, adding that there was a trend of foreigners coming into the country to illegally harvest these woods.

"We will continue to monitor the situation from time to time to fight against illegal harvesting of gaharu from our forests," he said.

Roslan added that all 12 suspects had been charged under Section 68 and 84 of the National Forestry Act 1984, where they face a a maximum of RM50,000 fine or jail of not more than five years or both.

He added that the gaharu seized from the operations would be auctioned off once the respective court cases had been settled.