Tag Archives: illegal logging

Illegal Logging and Organized Crime

Every two seconds, across the world, an area of forest the size of a football field is clear-cut by illegal loggers.1 In some countries, up to 90 percent of all the logging taking place is illegal.2 Estimates suggest that this criminal activity generates approximatel US$10–15 billion annually worldwide—funds that are unregulated, untaxed, and often remain in the hands of organized criminal gangs. Thus far, domestic and international efforts to curb forest crimes have focused on preventative actions, but they have hadlittle or no significant impact. While prevention is an essential part of enforcement efforts to tackle illegal logging, it has not halted the rapid disappearance of the world’s old-growth trees. New ideas and strategies are needed to preserve what is left of forests.

This paper suggests that current practice be combined with a more targeted, punitive approach, through more effective use of the criminal justice system. It argues that the criminal justice system should form an integral part of any balanced and organized nstrategy for fighting forest crime. This strategy should include initiatives to enhance the efficiency of criminal justice in combating illegal logging—that is, the investigation, prosecution, and conviction of cases, as well as the confiscation of the proceeds of criminal activity. These initiatives should be deployed in parallel with preventive programs, and the two approaches should complement and reinforce each other.

The criminal justice system has been used in the fight against illegal logging, but only in very sporadic instances and in limited and ineffective ways. Moreover, in those few cases, it has tended to target low-level criminals whose involvement in illegal logging is due to poverty. As such, it has created no real deterrent and has encouraged skeptics to further discount the relevance of criminal justice methods. Large-scale illegal operations are carried out by sophisticated criminal networks, and law enforcement actions need to be focused on the “masterminds” behind these networks—and the high level corrupt officials who enable and protect them. Pursuing these important targets through the criminal justice system will require creativity and a clear focus on those criminal justice rules and procedures that prove most effective…..

Because the role of the criminal system in fighting illegal logging has thus far been minimal, there are few documented successes, and little data to explain why the criminal justice system has not been more widely used in this context. To find new ideas as to how the criminal justice system can be used against illegal loggers, this paper therefore draws on experience gained from dealing with other types of crime (money laundering, corruption, and so forth).

The policy and operational recommendations made in this paper are based on legal and operational frameworks that are already in place in almost every country in the world. By making good use of these existing frameworks, we can take an important step towards ensuring the preservation and the sustainable management of the world’s forests.

Policy recommendations:

■ Develop an integrated criminal justice strategy for illegal logging that adopts and implements clear and comprehensive policies. To be effective, the strategy must target high-level corruption and the companies that pay bribes. It must aim for successful investigations, prosecutions, and the confiscation of the proceeds of crime. The strategy should include clear objectives and an assessment process for tracking progress….

■ Improve domestic cooperation. Domestic cooperation between agencies involved at different stages of the fight against illegal logging should be strengthened….

■ Enlist the private sector. When looking into the financial dimension of forest crimes, financial institutions and other entities obligated to report suspicious transactions to financial intelligence units need to be fully mobilized. This can be done through implementing due diligence measures and by monitoring transactions made by politically exposed persons (PEPs) and actors in the forestry sector…  Enhanced due diligence applies to PEPs in recognition that by virtue of their position, there is an increased risk of money laundering.

■ Engage civil society actors. . .

■ Include criminal justice as part of development assistance programs to combat illegal logging. …The implementation of anti-money laundering measures, as well as other steps suggested in this paper, should be included as part of country assistance strategies.

Operational recommendations….

■ Follow the money. Illegal loggers can be convicted of money laundering related to many different predicate crimes. This can result in additional jail time and/or fines above those imposed for the underlying forest crime. Furthermore, asset confiscation deprives criminals of the fruits of their crimes and makes it more costly for them to continue their operation.

■ Enforce anti-money laundering and due diligence requirements. Regulators should strictly enforce know your customer and due diligence requirements— particularly those for enhanced due diligence in the case of transactions of PEPs and suspicious transactions within the forestry sector. Regulators should also enforce compliance with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)

Excerpts from Executive Summary, “Justice for Forests Improving Criminal Justice Efforts to Combat Illegal Logging” by Marilyne Pereira Goncalves et al., (Wolrd Bank, 2012)

Food vs Trees: Brazil and the Amazon Rainforest

Brazil would lose about $100 billion in agricultural output if the senate rejects legislation that forgives farmers for illegally clearing protected rainforest, said Senator Katia Abreu.  Failure to approve the bill would force farmers to reforest about 70 million hectares (173 million acres) of land currently under coffee, oranges and other commodities, said Abreu, 49, who is president of the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock.  “We would have a brutal reduction in the country’s food production,” she said in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York on Nov. 1. “The legal uncertainty we are living in is deeply worrying.”

The Senate vote, scheduled for this month, comes as deforestation increases in the world’s biggest rain forest amid surging demand for agricultural and wood exports, according to the National Institute for Space Research. Environmental campaigners say the amnesty may encourage formers to flout regulations that limit deforestation.  The bill will update the 1965 Forest Code, which requires farmers to keep a certain percentage of their land as forest. That percentage varies from 80 percent in parts of the Amazon to 20 percent in the swampy Pantanal region in western Brazil.  The new legislation would make the current percentages law, eliminating the risk that they may be changed by presidential decree.

Since the 1960s, farmers have helped transform Brazil from a food importer to one of the world’s largest exporters of soft commodities, and they should be allowed to remain competitive, Abreu said.  Brazil is now the world’s top producer and exporter of coffee and sugar cane, the biggest beef exporter, the largest producer of oranges and the second-largest producer of soy after the U.S.  Much of that expansion has been made possible by cutting down the rain forest, not always legally.

The proposed bill would grant farmers amnesty and exempt them from being required to replant areas illegally deforested before 2009. That is fair because many farmers complied with the limits on deforestation, only to see those restrictions then tightened by decree, making them outlaws, Abreu said.  The legislation was approved by the lower house in a 410-63 vote on May 24. Since then, the bill has been altered to address concerns expressed by President Dilma Rousseff, said Abreu, a member of the Social Democratic Party who represents the state of Tocantins. She expects a vote by Nov. 23.

Opponents of the bill say it doesn’t take the opportunity to adapt 1965 rules to current global environmental standards.  “It is a lost opportunity,” said Roberto Smeraldi, founder and director of Amigos da Terra – Amazonia Brasileira, a Sao Paulo-based public interest group that focuses on the Amazon region. “After so many years discussing the Forest Code reform, this proposal doesn’t look to the future.”  Smeraldi, 51, said the focus on forgiving landowners will lead to further logging.  “One thing is to regularize, another totally different thing is to give amnesty,” he said in a phone interview from Sao Paulo. “When the citizen sees there is no difference between who acted in one way or another, he loses interest in the rule.”

Deforestation doubled to 267.9 square kilometers in May from 109.6 square kilometers a year earlier, led by destruction in the central state of Mato Grosso, the National Institute for Space Research said. While environmental protection is a concern for farmers, the burden shouldn’t lay only with them, Abreu said.  “In Brazil, the environment is a collective good with an individual burden to the landowners,” said Abreu. When the environmental discussions started, in the 80s, “we went to sleep as heroes and woke up as villains,” she said.

Brazil Faces $100 Billion Hit If Forest Bill Fails,Bloomberg, Senator Says, November 4, 2011,

They Can Kill You, Illegal Logging in Peru

Illegal deforestation of habitats is threatening many species of birds living in Peru between the Andes Mountains and the Amazon rainforest, scientists say.   One of the threatened habitats is home to the world’s smallest and rarest owls, a species unique to Peru, Inter Press Service reported Friday.”…Some people wondered ‘Does the owlet really exist?'” Jose Altamarino, manager of the park wardens in Abra Patricia, told IPS.

More than 400 bird species sharing the reserve, located between 5,900 and 8,200 feet above sea level, are threatened by illegal activities such as logging that have destroyed more than 7800 acres of the reserve, Altamarino said.  Efforts to combat the illegal logging are not only difficult but can be dangerous, a park ranger said.  “It’s dangerous to fight the illegal loggers: they could kill you,” Ramiro Galo said, adding it is always the lowliest workers who pay the penalty for illegal activities perpetrated by their employers.  “They never catch the lumber owners,” he said.

Illegal logging hits Peru bird habitat, UPI, May 13, 2011