On Wednesday, federal agents raided two Gibson guitar factories, in Memphis and Nashville, searching for ebony wood brought into the United States illegally. They seized "several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars," Gibson said on its website. The U.S. Department of Justice has been fighting with Gibson in court since it first raided the Memphis plant on Nov. 17, 2009, seizing guitar components allegedly made of illegal ebony, as well as six complete guitars, according to news reports. It charges, under a federal conservation law called the Lacey Act, that the instrument maker used wood that was imported illegally. But Gibson says the government is misinterpreting the law, and that it has done nothing wrong.
A U.S. Departemnt of Fish and Wildlife agent on Wednesday told reporters from the Tennessean that he "couldn't get into specifics" on the case because it's "an ongoing investigation." He said it stemmed from a case that started in Texas. Gibson didn't comment for the Tennessean story, but it issued a statement on Thursday afternoon claiming that the wood seized by Fish and Wildlife agents as well as those with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did, in fact, meet government standards, and that the U.S. was inappropriately trying to apply foreign laws:
The Federal Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. has suggested that the use of wood from India that is not finished by Indian workers is illegal, not because of U.S. law, but because it is the Justice Department’s interpretation of a law in India. (If the same wood from the same tree was finished by Indian workers, the material would be legal.) This action was taken without the support and consent of the government in India.
The wood the Government seized on August 24 is from a Forest Stewardship Council certified supplier and is FSC Controlled, meaning that the wood complies with the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council, which is an industry-recognized and independent, not-for-profit organization established to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. FSC Controlled Wood standards require, among other things, that the wood not be illegally harvested and not be harvested in violation of traditional and civil rights.
According to the court documents online, the government first started investigating the company for wood taken from Madagascar, and that's where the wood and guitars seized in 2009 came from. In a 2009 search warrant affidavit, Fish and Wildlife agent Kevin Seiler claimed the company knowingly bought wood from a German vendor named Nagal, who dealt in wood that hadn't been authorized for export from Madagascar. No documents were available online in support of the latest search, which appears to have focused on wood from India, rather than Madagascar.