Targeted law enforcement efforts can help stop tropical deforestation. New results from an international coalition to combat illegal deforestation show that with sufficient commitment, such efforts can play a key role in moving countries towards the COP26 pledge to end deforestation by 2030.
An international coalition led by INTERPOL and the UNODC has, together with national authorities in Papua New Guinea (PNG), contributed to a substantive decline in overall deforestation in 2020 compared to 2014-2018, representing several thousand hectares of rainforest saved in 2020 in this country alone. The reduction happened within only 3 years after the start of the coalition’s Law Enforcement Assistance Programme (LEAP) supported by Norway.
LEAP, with its strong intelligence-led operational focus, currently works in ten target countries across South-East Asia and Latin America by using intelligence, building national task forces, and providing operational support, mentoring and capacity building relating to combating forestry crime and illegal tropical deforestation. By enhancing intelligence sharing, LEAP helps to identify trafficking routes, hotspots, modus operandi, specific crime trends, and facilitate transnational investigations. The Programme further encourages multi-agency cooperation at the national and regional levels, including among the private sector.
“Like other forms of environmental crime, illegal deforestation often occurs hand in hand with other offences such as corruption and money laundering. Through LEAP, we are encouraging greater cooperation between law enforcement around the world to disrupt the criminal networks behind these crimes, and help provide support for the COP26 pledge”, stated Jürgen Stock, Secretary-General of INTERPOL, the world’s largest police organization with 195 member countries.
In 2019 alone, INTERPOL’s global and regional law enforcement operations targeting illegal logging and wildlife crime, including those facilitated by LEAP, have led to approximately 20,000 seizures (2550m3 of timber), 600 arrests, 420 incidents of which 178 related to LEAP’s target countries, including Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Thailand and Cambodia.
“LEAP supports the coordinated criminal justice responses needed to help fulfil the pledge taken at the COP26 climate summit to end deforestation by 2030,” said Ms. Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
LEAP’s timber identification and document fraud training for relevant law enforcement agencies has led to significant wood seizures, including CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) protected timber, in Latin America and Southeast Asia.
Financial investigations are also a part of LEAP, alongside field operations. In one partner country, financial intelligence units mentored by LEAP identified tax evasion and fraud linked to the forestry sector worth up to 2 billion USD. This has led to the issuing of several tax penalties to perpetrators and formal warnings issued to major banks suspected of being involved in financial crimes linked to the forestry sector.
“Illegal logging and other environmental crimes are destroying natural habitats, killing wildlife and polluting ecosystems. By following the dirty money, law enforcement can stop the criminal gangs that are making billions from looting our planet. The FATF calls on all governments to help us take the money out of environmental crime and released a report this year to help law enforcement detect such cases.”, said Dr. Marcus Pleyer, President of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog and standard setter.