August 25, 2011 / 9:30 PM / 8 years ago

Gibson Guitar to fight U.S. probe of its wood imports

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Gibson Guitar Corp’s chief executive said on Thursday he would fight a federal investigation of the legendary guitar maker’s wood imports after agents raided the company for the second time in two years.

Federal agents raided Gibson facilities in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, on Wednesday, seizing wood imported from India, and workers were sent home.

In an affidavit, authorities indicated they are weighing charges against the company or its executives for illegally importing wood under a U.S. law barring importation of endangered plants and woods. The company has sued to recover its property.

“Gibson has complied with foreign laws and believes it is innocent of any wrong doing,” Chief Executive Officer Henry Juszkiewicz said in a statement. “We will fight aggressively to prove our innocence.”

Juszkiewicz said the company, which began more than a century ago and makes some of the world’s most prized guitars, has worked with environmental groups such as the Rainforest Alliance to ensure its wood imports are from sustainable sources.

“(The government) 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,” Juszkiewicz said.

If the same wood from the same tree was finished by Indian workers, the material would be legal, he said.

In an affidavit, agent John Rayfield of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said U.S. Customs agents in June detained a shipment of sawn ebony logs from India.

The paperwork accompanying the shipment identified it fraudulently as Indian ebony fingerboards for guitars and it did not say it was going to Gibson, the affidavit said.

In July, agents observed Indian ebony and rosewood delivered to a storage facility for Gibson, according to the affidavit, which asked permission to seize Gibson’s business computers.

Gibson plants also were raided in 2009, when agents confiscated ebony imported from Madagascar.

Reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Bill Trott

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