Gibson/Lacey Act UpdateJuly 6, 2011
In November 2009, agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service searched the Tennessee manufacturing facility of Gibson Guitar as part of an investigation under the Lacey Act into the use of endangered rosewood from Madagascar. That search represented the first use of a 2008 amendment to the Lacey Act prohibiting trade in illegally sourced wood products. The Lacey Act is a 100-year-old statute that restricts traffic in illegally harvested species.
The June 4 filing by DOJ prosecutors filing to strike claims by Gibson and wood supplier Theodore Nagel stated: "Gibson sourced its unfinished ebony wood in the form of blanks (for use in the manufacture of fingerboards for Gibson guitars) from Nagel (in Germany), which obtained it exclusively from Roger Thunam (a supplier in Madagascar). Madagascar prohibits the harvest of ebony wood as well as the exportation of unfinished ebony wood."
The filing also referred to internal Gibson e-mails: "[A] Gibson employee…wrote that '[t]he true Ebony species preferred by Gibson Musical Instruments is found only in Madagascar (Diospryos perrieri). This is a slow-growing tree species with very little conservation protection and supplies are considered to be highly threatened in its native environment due to over exploitation.' In fact, [he] spent two and a half weeks in Madagascar this June ,' writing on his return, 'I represented our company along with two other guitar manufacturers ... All legal timber and wood exports are prohibited because of wide spread corruption and theft of valuable woods like rosewood and ebony.'"
"On February 25, 2009, in a reference to the potential long term solution, [he] wrote…that the company Maderas Barber ‘has been in the business a long time and may be able to help begin some legitimate harvests. Mr. [Roger] Thunam on the other hand should now be able to supply Nagel with all the rosewood and ebony for the grey market.'"
At stake in the upcoming court decision is the prosecution's assertion that Gibson and Nagel do not have legal "standing" to claim ownership over the seized ebony because it is contraband, or inherently illegal to possess, "both because it was unfinished wood and because Claimants' source for ebony in Madagascar was not authorized to sell it."
The court is now being asked to determine whether to strike the companies' claims for this reason.