Judge agrees to increased penalty for five caught with prized pines Five mainlanders were jailed yesterday for plotting to steal a threatened species of pine prized for its fung shui qualities, in the first use of harsher penalties for the offence. District Court judge Mary Yuen Lai-wah agreed with a prosecution application to increase by 35 per cent each defendant's sentence for conspiracy to steal Buddhist pines. She said it was a serious, organised crime and affected the environment. The government said last month that police would seek harsher penalties under the Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance as part of efforts to crack down on theft of the pines. Wong Wan-heung, 25, Lee Kei-hok, 25, Lau Man-ngan, 32, Lee Wan-fung, 27 and Lee Kei-man, 31, had been found guilty at an earlier hearing after pleading not guilty. Judge Yuen adopted a starting point of two years' jail and increased it to two years and eight months. Wong, who was also convicted of assisting the passage of unauthorised entrants in Hong Kong, was jailed for five years and two months. The court heard that on February 12, marine police intercepted a motorised sampan near Waglan Island, close to the boundary between Hong Kong and mainland waters. The five defendants were found on board with nine Buddhist pines, a handsaw and plastic petrol containers. Wong told police he was paid 50 yuan at Dangan on the mainland to convey the other four to uproot trees. The four said they had picked up the trees already uprooted on Waglan Island and were each paid 50 yuan. The court heard the nine trees, which were about 40 years old, were believed to have been uprooted in Shek O Country Park and were worth $60,000. The prosecution said there had been 22 previous cases involving the seizure of the pines between 2001 and March this year. An officer from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department told the court the naturally growing species was found from Sai Kung to Cape D'Aguilar and had high commercial value as an ornamental species. The survival of the tree species in Hong Kong was threatened by illegal exploitation. But defence barrister Henry Ma Ka-fan argued the crime was not prevalent in Hong Kong because so far only nine cases relating to uprooting, stealing or handling of the pines had been proved in the courts.