Massive Mexico Illegal Wood Seizure Sign of Criminal Diversity

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Authorities in Mexico have seized a record 10,000 ton haul of illegal timber worth more than $1 million, another indication of the wide range of illicit activities undertaken by criminal organizations to increase revenue streams. 

The seizure was made after raids in five of the 21 municipalities where foresting takes place in the western state of Michoacan (see Excelsior image below), and resulted in a record seizure of more than $1.1 million worth of wood, reported Excelsior. Commissioner for Security and Development Alfredo Castillo on tweeted that the timber equated to about 9,000 trees (see below). 

Mexico’s Federal Attorney’s Office for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) and other security forces also confiscated 13 sawmills, two wood shredders, 11 vehicles, and other machinery and equipment. The seized wood was mostly pine and Mexican fir. 

Though the seizure has not officially been attributed to any particular criminal group, some media reports suggested it was the work of the Knights Templar.

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InSight Crime Analysis

Mexico has the 12th largest forested area in the world, and 3rd in Latin America, according to the 2010 Global Forest Resources Assessment (pdf) from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). In January 2014, Nuestravision Noticias reported that over 60,000 hectares of woodland are lost to illegal logging per year.

In a case underscoring the involvement of organized crime in timber theft, Excelsior highlighted a 2011 uprising by a community in Michoacan that saw protesters complain of official complicity in the theft of 50 percent of trees around the town of Cheran by organized criminal groups. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Eco Trafficking

If organized crime is to blame for this most recent seizure, it would be yet another example of the diverse interests such groups have established in the hunt for criminal income. In March 2014, it was reported that Mexican pirates had stolen over $800,000 of shrimp from fishermen in the state of Sinaloa during the 2013-2014 shrimping season. Michoacan has also recently been identified as one of the five Mexican states in which mining is reportedly under the control of criminal organizations, and the Knights Templar cartel is also known to have a major stake in the iron and steel industry — which lost over $1.3 billion to theft and illegal mining in 2013. 

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