Police Detained, Forestry Officials Investigated Over Bribes in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

By Htet Naing Zaw 6 September 2019

NAYPYITAW—A police lieutenant and a police constable who took bribes to release illegal loggers in Rakhine State’s Gwa Township, in western Myanmar, have been detained, according to local authorities.

Local residents arrested a vessel carrying around 40 tons of timber and a boat carrying around 20 at a jetty in Satt Thwar village tract in Gwa Township on May 18 before handing over both to police and forest department officials.

The bigger vessel was replaced with another one three days later, locals who took part in the arrest informed lawmaker U Myint Wai, who represents Gwa Township in the Lower House.

The investigation was launched after the lawmaker raised a question with the Parliament in August, accusing forest department staff and police of setting free illegal loggers in exchange for money.

An investigation team consisting of a police colonel and a forest department director and other officials made field inspections, Satt Thwar village administrator U Myat Soe told The Irrawaddy.

“Currently, the chief of Sat Thwar police station and a police constable have been detained, and forest department staff are still being investigated,” he said.

“The team interviewed village administrators and all those who participated in arresting the vessels. I heard that the two policemen are being detained in the Gwa Township [police station],” Gwa Township administrator U Aung Myo Naing told The Irrawaddy.

Chief of Gwa Township Police Force Police Major Myint Htay, when asked by The Irrawaddy, declined to provide details while the investigation is ongoing, but confirmed that the two police are in detention pending legal action.

“The lawmaker raised the issue on Aug. 21 and the investigation team came on Aug. 23. We presented photo evidence of the replacement vessel—photos of the two different vessels. The team took the photos,” said Satt Thwar village administrator U Myat Soe.

The investigation also identified the owner of the vessel, who is out on bail, he said.

U Myat Soe said he’d heard the illegal loggers bribed the two police and forestry officials with 600,000 kyats distributed unevenly, with officials taking larger portions and those in lower ranks  receiving less.

According to lawmaker U Myint Wai, arrests of illegal loggers in southern Rakhine State are usually led by community members. When locals receive information about illegal logging, they usually inform lawmakers, and if lawmakers can confirm the case they inform the township administrator, who informs the forest department and the police.

Illegal logging is particularly rampant in Kachin and Shan states and in Mandalay, Sagaing and Magwe regions, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.

According to the ministry, 48,681 tons of smuggled timber and 3,483 pieces of logging equipment were seized between April 2017 and April 2018, involving some 7,300 suspects. Most of the seizures were made in Shan State.