The Vietnamese gang caught stealing agarwood in Thailand is thought to be involved in the trafficking of tigers and tiger carcasses as well, according to the database of the Office for Combatting the Illegal Wildlife Trade (CIWT).
Some 50 Vietnamese nationals, most of them from Quang Binh province, have been arrested by Thai officials since 2009 and 40 of them were caught stealing agarwood from Phu Khiao Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand’s north-eastern province of Chaiyaphum.
Wichanon Saenphala, chief of the sanctuary, told Thai PBS that the Vietnamese gang usually worked in teams of 4 or 5 and entered Thailand through a border checkpoint in Chiang Rai, Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom or Mukdahan provinces.
The latest group of five, who were arrested by park officials in Khon Sarn district of Chaiyaphum on March 26th in possession of 103.5kg of agarwood, allegedly poached from the sanctuary, entered Thailand through the checkpoint in Nakhon Phanom on February 25th. Their arrest led to the discovery of more poaching equipment at a resort in Chum Phae district of Khon Kaen province.
Three of the five suspects admitted that this was the third time they have entered Thailand to search for agarwood.
On March 18th, six Vietnamese nationals were arrested with 173kg of agarwood.
Altogether 14 were arrested between last November and March in possession of 350kg of agarwood. Several cars and logging equipment were also confiscated.
The Agarwood chips are believed to for sale to a Vietnamese trader in Laos.
Wichanon said that officials also found images of a tiger carcass in the smart phone of one of the suspects, indicating that the gang might also be involved in the trafficking of wildlife.
He also said that Thai officials have been looking for a key member of the gang, a Vietnamese national who is fluent in Thai and is believed to be the facilitator, who arranged lodging for gang members and transport into and out of the forests, particularly Phu Khiao Wildlife Sanctuary, to search for agarwood.
He suspects that the gang might have been assisted by some Thai guides.