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US Retailer Pleads Guilty to Buying Illegally Harvested Wood

FILE - A Lumber Liquidators store.

The U.S. hardwood flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to knowingly buying wood that was illegally harvested from an endangered Siberian tiger habitat in eastern Russia.

The company will pay more than $23 million in fines.

"Lumber Liquidators' race to profit resulted in the plundering of forests and wildlife habitat that, if continued, could spell the end of the Siberian tiger," Assistant Attorney General John Cruden said Thursday.

"We hope this sends a strong message that we will not tolerate such abuses of U.S. laws that protect and preserve the world's endangered plant and animal species."

According to the Justice Department, between 2010 and 2013, Lumber Liquidators bought hardwood floors manufactured in China made from timber logged from the Mongolian oak forests in eastern Russia. The forests are home to the world's last 450 wild Siberian tigers and the 50 remaining Amur leopards.

U.S. prosecutors say Lumber Liquidators employees failed to take action even though they knew the Chinese flooring likely came from an illegal source.

Prosecutors also say the company illegally and deliberately mislabeled the suspect timber as having come from Wales, and declared that wood taken from dangerously dwindling stocks of merpauh from Myanmar as having come from Indonesia.