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Major breakthrough in fight to end illegal logging as Interpol arrests 200 across 12 countries

20th February 2013

Global Witness welcomes Interpol’s announcement that it has arrested nearly 200 people and seized around US$8 million worth of illegal timber in a major international crackdown on illegal logging and timber trafficking in Central and South America. This is a significant breakthrough in efforts to control a deadly trade valued at up to US$100billion, which is destroying the forests the planet needs to survive and leaving the people who live in them stranded.

“This is a major development in the fight against illegal logging, which is a much bigger global problem than most of us realise,” said Billy Kyte, forest campaigner at Global Witness. “Local people often get the blame, but they are usually not the real problem. Much more damage is done by big companies connected to business, political and criminal elites, who systematically skirt laws and regulations in order to destroy forests at an industrial scale. This is a disaster for the people who live in the forest and for the planet as a whole.”

The Interpol investigation called “Operation Leaf”, covered 12 countries and lasted three months in late 2012. It brought together law enforcement agencies to combat forestry crime in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. The investigation pointed to the social impacts of the illegal logging, highlighting damaging impacts on forest-dependent communities and increases in murders and corruption as criminal groups move into remote forest areas.

The logging trade is widely recognised as one of the most corrupt on the planet, and this illegality facilitates and accelerates the destruction of the world’s forests and all that they house. For nearly two decades, Global Witness has consistently shown how deals struck behind closed doors too often allow powerful elites to cash in with scant regard for the human or environmental cost, while the local population sees none of the supposed benefits from logging.  

“For too long, governments and international enforcement bodies have turned a blind eye to the illegality and corruption that lies behind much of what ends up on our shop floors and in our living rooms,” said Kyte. “Interpol’s firm action alongside the governments concerned is a big step in the right direction and must be followed up with swift enforcement and prosecutions. This news should come as a wake up call for companies importing wood products – under a new EU law coming into force next week, UK company directors who fail to do the right checks on illegal timber imports could face two years in jail.”

As of March 3rd, the EU’s new Timber Regulations will make it illegal for companies to import illegally harvested timber. Companies will also be committing an offence if they fail to carry out checks - known as due diligence - on their supply chains, to ensure they know where their timber comes from and how it was obtained.

Roughly one in five people globally rely directly upon forests for their daily needs.  Forests also harbour half of all plant and animal species, and soak up and store carbon that would otherwise contribute to global climate change.

/ENDS

Contacts: Oliver Courtney, ocourtney@globalwitness.org, +44(0)7815731889

Billy Kyte, bkyte@globalwitness.org, +44(0)7891360590.