Report Sheds Light on How Illegal Timber is ‘Laundered’ in Brazil

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A new Greenpeace report exposes the web of corruption behind illegal deforestation in Brazil, unraveling some of the details behind an illicit trade that threatens environmental catastrophe as it decimates the Amazon rainforest.

According to the report (pdf), 78 percent of logging that occurred in the north-central Brazilian state of Para between August 2011 and July 2012 was unauthorized. Using satellite imagery, the organization detected 12 points around the Amazonian city of Santarem where illegal logging appeared to be occurring.

Based on a two year investigation in Para, the organization found that state controls are exploited by wood traffickers in five principal ways, allowing “dirty” wood to obtain legitimate documents before exportation. Manners of “laundering” wood include forest management officials inflating the inventory of existing species in order to allow for more cutting, and authorizing areas for harvesting that never occurs, in order to generate credits later used for illegally logged timber. Meanwhile, large timber companies may apply for more logging credits than they need, and sell these off to others who use them for illegal harvesting.

The organization cites the United States, Europe and Israel as the top buyers of Brazilian wood, and particularly the valuable tropical species “ipe.” There are signs of some companies purchasing illegally harvested timber, including the United Kingdom building supply chain Jewson, the Guardian reported.

Greenpeace has sent a formal complaint to the federal Public Ministry and the Para Attorney General’s Office, requesting they address this phenomenon, which has “serious consequences for biodiversity.”

InSight Crime Analysis

Deforestation rates in Brazil’s Amazon fell from 2004 to 2012, but have been climbing again since then, according to the country’s Environmental Ministry. Illegal logging is the key driver of this destruction, though ranching and illegal mining are also contributors.

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Greenpeace’s report serves to highlight the corruption that helps facilitate the trade — the ability to exploit controls and obtain official documents indicates the loggers and the export companies they serve have important contacts on the inside, which likely go beyond forest management officials.

The level of influence landowners and loggers have in the Amazon is also seen in the fact Brazil is the world’s most dangerous country for environmental activists, with 448 killings in the past decade and the majority of those responsible walking free. Political elites and powerful business interests are believed to have connections to some of these cases.

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