INTERPOL-coordinated illegal logging operations in West Africa and Central and South America have identified key trade routes used by criminal networks to traffic illicitly harvested timber and led to major seizures of protected and valuable timber species worth more than USD 262 million.
Operation Log took place in nine West African countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Togo – between July and September 2015, with investigations into the criminal networks involved in illegal logging in the region continuing.
Preliminary results from Operation Log saw the seizure of more than USD 216 million in illegally harvested rosewood (Pterocarpus Erinaceus) and other timber species, with 44 individuals arrested. Rosewood is highly sought after worldwide for its pink- or red-coloured wood, and therefore commands extremely high prices on the international market.
Law enforcement in the participating countries identified major trade routes used by criminal networks to traffic timber within and out of the region, with Asia highlighted as the main destination for illegally harvested rosewood.
“International police cooperation is necessary to combat the criminal networks involved in the illegal trade in rosewood. Burkina Faso is determined to bring an end to the activities of these networks,” said Lazare Tarpaga, Director General of the Burkina Faso National Police.
Links between the illicit timber trade and other serious crimes were also uncovered during Operation Log, including corruption through the issuance of fraudulent permits, firearms trafficking and wildlife crime.
Operation Amazonas II, an initiative to investigate, arrest and prosecute the criminals and networks involved in the illegal timber trade in Central and South America which began in November 2014, has so far seen more than USD 46 million in seizures and identified a need for heightened border controls in the region.
The operation across 12 countries has led to the seizure of more than 53,000 cubic metres of illegal timber – enough to fill 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools. In addition, 25,000 logs and 1,200 sacks of charcoal were also recovered, and more than 200 individuals were arrested. Types of timber with the highest risk for trafficking were pine, black rosewood, big-leaf mahogany, cedar and laurel – most of which are protected species.
Manuel de Jesus Gallardo, Head of the Environmental Group of the Central Division of Investigations of the Guatemala Police, said: “Operation Amazonas II allowed us to raise awareness of the State on forest crime. Despite limited resources, we succeeded in building a well-coordinated multi-agency team which used anintelligence-led approach to seize protected timber species and arrest key criminals who are now under investigation.”
Common modus operandi identified during Operation Amazonas II include the use of forged documents to transport illegal timber across international borders, and the transport of illicit timber during certain times of day to avoid detection. The main trade routes identified saw the illegal timber destined for the US, Europe and Asia.
As a result of the operation, INTERPOL has identified the need to strengthen enforcement at border control points in the region through the inclusion of forestry experts able to identify protected species.
Countries involved in Operation Amazonas II were: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay and Peru.
The two operations were coordinated by INTERPOL’s Project Leaf which aims to combat illegal logging and related forest crimes. Through Project Leaf, INTERPOL works with its member countries and civil society partners to strengthen law enforcement’s ability to protect the world’s forests, which had been identified as critical to mitigating the negative effects of climate change.
The operational results were announced during this week’s meeting of INTERPOL’s Wildlife Crime Working Group, which has gathered in Singapore to review the most pressing threats to the world’s forests and biodiversity.