German firm investigated by EIA convicted for breaking EU sanctions by trading illegal Myanmar teak

A German company has been convicted and fined for evading sanctions on timber imported from Myanmar.

The Regional Court in Hamburg found WOB Timber had evaded the EU sanctions on 31 separate shipments of timber worth millions of euros from 2008-11, when the previous military junta –the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) – was sanctioned by the EU.

The Judge yesterday (27 April) ordered the company to pay a fine of €3.3 million and sentenced director Stephan Bührich to a 21-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of €200,000 – and warned further cases would result in even harsher penalties.

Myanmar teak seized in the Netherlands in breach of EU law

The fine and suspended jail term constitute one of the largest penalties ever imposed on a timber trader in the EU. Many of the shipments involved timber being processed in Taiwan and declared as originating in Taiwan rather than Myanmar to avoid the reach of the sanctions.

EIA investigators exposed the role Taiwan plays in supplying Myanmar teak to the international markets in our 2019 report State of Corruption.

WOB Timber has also exploited regulatory loopholes to trade illicit timber more recently, as revealed in our 2020 report The Croatian Connection Exposed, when it used Croatian company Viator Pula to import timber into the EU to avoid the EU Timber Regulation’s due diligence requirements, which the German authority had warned could not be complied with when trading Myanmar teak.

We subsequently reported there was evidence WOB’s suppliers evaded tax in exporting the timber, which would render the timber illegal under the EU Timber Regulation.

Faith Doherty, our Forests Campaigns Leader, said: “The court’s sentencing is welcome and the timing significant. Since the military coup on 1 February 2021, we have been urging the international community to respond by sanctioning the export of Myanmar timber to its markets.

“Profits from timber exports benefit the military junta and the criminal syndicates operating in an even more brutal and chaotic Myanmar.”

“Using the 2006 sanctions regime to enforce shows how effective new sanctions would be to stop the military regime from receiving funds that only enable them to continue their reign of terror.”

The US is the only country to have so far responded with sanctions, designating the Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE), the State-run regulator responsible for timber exports.