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25 July 2014

Trade in illegal timber target of INTERPOL and WCO-supported operation in Peru

Illicit logging costs country USD 250 million per year

LYON, France – An operation supported by INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization (WCO) targeting the criminal groups linked to the illegal timber trade in Peru has resulted in the seizure of wood and wood products worth USD 20.6 million.

Operation Amazonas, held from March to May 2014, was conducted jointly by Peru Customs (SUNAT), INTERPOL and the WCO. The operation saw the participation of law enforcement and customs authorities in Brazil, China, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Peru, as well as INTERPOL’s National Central Bureaus in Brazil and Peru, and Regional Bureaus in Argentina and El Salvador.

Under the operation, officials targeted timber shipments leaving Peru from various ports and via land borders with Brazil, carrying out inspections and exchanging intelligence. The resulting seizures are estimated at more than 15,000 m3 of timber, enough to fill approximately six Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Authorities also seized two vessels attempting to transport illicit timber, and a machine used in illegal logging activities.

“The illegal timber trade contributes to deforestation and thus global warming. Law enforcement must act and act now against this pernicious smuggling to mitigate environmental degradation,” said WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya.

“I commend Peruvian Customs for leading Operation Amazonas and all participating partners, including INTERPOL, OSINFOR (the Peruvian forest authority) and the customs administrations from Brazil, China, Mexico and the Dominican Republic,” added Mr Mikuriya.

Operation Amazonas, the first collaboration between INTERPOL and the WCO to combat forest crime, was launched after SUNAT gathered intelligence revealing the involvement of organized criminal networks in illegal logging, the sale and use of fraudulent permits to sell illegally sourced timber, and the mislabeling of timber exports.

“Through their efforts in Operation Amazonas, law enforcement and customs agencies across Latin America and beyond have demonstrated their commitment to protecting the world’s forests and preventing criminal groups from making a profit from our natural resources,” said INTERPOL’s Executive Director of Police Services, Jean-Michel Louboutin.

INTERPOL’s involvement in the operation was under its Environmental Security unit’s Project Leaf, a consortium initiative led by INTERPOL with the United Nations Environment Programme and the financial support of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. The project supports countries to tackle illegal logging and other forestry crimes.

“Though this operation achieved positive results, there is still important work ahead for the law enforcement agencies involved to continue their investigations and identify the criminal networks behind the illicit timber trade,” said David Higgins, Head of INTERPOL’s Environmental Security unit.

“Bringing an end to illegal logging and other forest crimes requires a coordinated global response, and INTERPOL applauds Peru for leading the charge,” added Mr Higgins.

Peruvian authorities estimate that illegal logging accounts for 40-60 per cent of the total logging occurring in the country. Losses due to illegal logging are estimated at more than USD 250 million per year, or 1.5 times the value of the legitimate timber industry.
“This operation has opened our eyes to the ways that criminal groups can export timber out of Peru with no reliable documentation,” said Gustavo Romero, SUNAT Chief of Intendency of Customs Control.

“Working in collaboration with INTERPOL and other organizations at the national and international levels has enabled us to achieve positive results, and will help us to better fight against the criminal organizations involved in the illegal timber business,” he concluded.

The operation also included awareness-raising activities to educate the public and law enforcement community about forest crime and the criminal networks involved, which use the profits from illegal logging to fund other serious crimes. Increasing understanding of the often hidden links between different types of crimes is also a key aspect of INTERPOL’s Turn Back Crime global campaign.