With demand and the amounts of money on offer rising, it’s hardly surprising that there is a huge black market for wild oud in Southeast Asia.
If you are looking to buy oud in Bangkok, an area known as Soi Arab, or Arab Street, is the place to head to.
"Arab Street" in Bangkok
In many of the oud shops on Arab Street, oud chips from Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar – all countries where wild harvesting is banned – are sold openly.
"Nobody wants to tell the truth [about how they get the oud]. When you ask them, they keep telling ‘I make it legally’. But when you ask about the document, they don’t have anything to show you," says Sripetkla. "They pay for the customs office … they must know somebody inside."
None of the sellers Ali Mohamed al-Woozain meets here will talk on camera about their trade, but he eventually finds a dealer from the Gulf who agrees to on the condition that his face is hidden.
"There’s a way for everything," the dealer says. "There’s a lot of corruption …. It goes to Gulf merchants all clean, filtered, licensed and legal. They don’t know the drama behind it."
Smuggling oud: How it works
Qatar and other Gulf states have effectively opted out of the CITES controls on aquilaria in case it affects trade. The different rules for different countries have created the kind of spider’s web on which a black market thrives.
"Everything depends on the police," says another oud dealer in Bangkok whose identity cannot be revealed. "If they say OK, it’s OK. Otherwise all of the oud shops [in Bangkok’s Arab Street] would be erased."
He believes the corruption starts in the forest. "Even the mafia who sponsor money for their hunter to hunt agarwood from the forest, they are also paying the police to clear the way for them to get into the forest and, on the way back, they pay for the forest ranger somewhere."
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