Europol supported one of a kind international operation targeting illegal timber trade both in source and destination countries. The actions involved law enforcement authorities from Brazil, France, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain as well as the Latin American Project EL PAcCTO. The actions targeted networks involved in environmental crime, illegal logging, smuggling, tax evasion, money laundering and document fraud.
More than 350 inspections took place in the joint action days in September. Investigators detected irregularities in connection to 17 companies (one in Italy, one in the Netherlands, three in Spain and 12 in Portugal). The relevant authorities opened criminal proceedings against one of these companies. The national authorities conducted the checks mainly at Brazilian ports for the export and European ports searching for illegal imports. Criminal networks use document forgery dissimulate the origin of the timber or the actual species in the shipment to pass customs controls and reach the consumers. Corruption is also an enabler of this criminal activity.
Illegal timber trade affecting climate change
This is the first time when source and destination countries for illegal timber trade joint forces in coordinated inspection of countries trading with timber. The inspections focused on different criminal activities used by criminal networks to enable illegal timber trade including document fraud and bribery to dissimilate the origin or the true species of the goods. The timber is used in for a wide diversity of purposes including construction or creating of ornaments, while the rare origin is appreciated for its natural characteristics. The obtained profits are not taxed, leading to tax evasion. Criminal networks the launder these illegal profits by placing them in legal financial system and thus, integrating them into the legitimate economy. However, the illegal trade contributes significantly to current deforestation in the origin countries, depleting their natural resources. According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space research, the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon rose at least 28% in 2020.
Europol coordinated the operational activities, facilitated the information exchange and provided analytical support. During the action days, Europol deployed experts to Netherlands to support the field activities. This enabled Europol to facilitate the real-time exchange of information and support with operational analysis to provide clues to investigators on the ground.
Source – Europol