Project LEAF (Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests) is an INTERPOL initiative against illegal logging and related crimes.
INTERPOL’s Project Leaf supports member countries to strengthen the response of law enforcement agencies, identify criminals and their modus operandi as well as to disrupt transnational criminal operations related to forestry crimes. Due to the need for a strong and organized law enforcement response to illegal logging and trade, the project enables investigators, criminal intelligence analysts, police, forestry law enforcement institutions, customs and tax authorities to advance and coordinate internationally their intelligence, analytical and investigative objectives. Project Leaf collaborates with international institutions and the national Ministries of the law enforcement agencies globally, with the joint mission of addressing transnational organized crime against forests and the environment.
Living forests are vital to mitigating climate change because they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Deforestation accounts for an estimated 17 per cent of global carbon emissions, greater than from all the world’s air, road, rail and shipping traffic combined.
National and international frameworks exist to protect forests, reduce illegal logging, support sustainable practices and reduce emissions – for example, the international climate finance mechanism known as REDD+, which is supported by UN and World Bank initiatives.
Despite this increased concern for sustainable forestry, around only eight per cent of the world’s forests are certified as sustainably managed.
It is estimated that illegal logging accounts for 50-90 per cent of all forestry activities in key producer tropical forests, such as those of the Amazon Basin, Central Africa and Southeast Asia, and 15-30 per cent of all wood traded globally. Illegal logging continues to occur in many formally protected forests, especially in tropical countries.
The trade in illegally harvested timber is highly lucrative and estimated to be worth between USD 51 and USD 152 billion annually.
Illegal logging operations rely on corruption and could not occur without some form of consent from government officials responsible for protecting forests. Officials accept bribes that allow criminals to obtain logging permits, avoid detection and export illegal timber. This results in the loss of crucial resources for developing countries, while damaging their economies, public trust, and institutional structures.
An international, coordinated response is essential in order to combat the organized transnational nature of the criminal groups involved in illegal logging. Otherwise, halting illegal logging in one country will merely result in an increase in another as the demand for illegally logged wood products remains unchanged.
Effective compliance and enforcement requires cooperation among the many different law enforcement agencies involved, including police, forest authorities, anti-corruption units, financial intelligence units (FIUs) and customs.
By involving the FIUs and investigating financial crimes – such as money laundering – in the forestry sector, the law enforcement community can identify and confiscate the proceeds of those crimes. Following the money trail leads to the masterminds or financiers of the illegal logging operations and, most importantly, to their assets.
- Support criminal intelligence analysisto identify criminals, their networks and their modus operandi.
- Provide analytical support on the movement of illegal timber along the entire supply chain and ownership associations of the companies and vehicles or vessels involved.This may include forensic analysis of electronic equipment through support from the INTERPOL Digital Forensics Laboratory, and expert examination of forestry material, equipment and documentation.
- Issue international notices and alertson behalf of member countries to request information on, and warn of, the movements and activities of people, vehicles and vessels.
- Provide case-specific investigative and technical guidancethrough the deployment of specialised Investigative Support Teams composed of INTERPOL and national experts.
- Organize national and regional trainingsrelevant to forestry crime, including evidence collection, chain-of-custody and operational planning.
- Convene Regional Investigative and Analytical Case Meetings (RIACMs)to facilitate the exchange of investigative information and provide a setting for countries to collectively examine ongoing transnational cases and prepare joint enforcement actions.
- Support the implementation of National Environmental Security Task Forces (NESTs)to ensure institutionalised cooperation between national agencies and international partners.
- Disseminateexperts’ recommendations and the best practices for combating forestry crimes.
- Enhance information and intelligence sharingamong investigators and intelligence services from different countries, and optimise entry the of information into INTERPOL databases.
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