Press release | June 26, 2018

New investigation reveals systemic illegal logging by European company in the DRC

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New investigation reveals systemic illegal logging by major European company in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while Norway and France on brink of funding expansion of country’s industrial logging sector

Find out more about the full investigation here

  • Global Witness reveals that European company Norsudtimber – the biggest single owner of logging concessions covering over 40,000 km2 of rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – is operating illegally on 90% of its sites.
  • At the same time, Norway and France are planning to fund an US$18 million programme, which includes backing the expansion of industrial logging in DRC and support to Norsudtimber – which is headquartered in the Alpine tax haven of Liechtenstein.
  • Expanding industrial logging in DRC’s rainforest could generate 35 million tonnes of extra CO2 emissions per year, in direct contradiction of international climate and forest protection commitments.
  • China, Vietnam, France and Portugal are also all failing to stop Norsudtimber’s illegal timber trading: 78% of its timber exports went to Vietnam and China between 2013 and 2017, 11% went to Europe, with the majority going to Portugal and France.

Global Witness has today published astounding new evidence showing a major, globally trading European company is illegally logging across huge swathes of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s rainforest – just as Norway and France are poised to fund a new programme to support the company and expand industrial logging.

A two-year investigation by the NGO found that Norsudtimber, the biggest single owner of logging concessions in the DRC, has been operating illegally on 90% of its sites, an expanse of almost 40,000km2, with almost 60% of the timber exported coming from endangered or vulnerable tree species. Norsudtimber has issued a denial, included in the report, which suggests the DRC government is allowing them to continue logging in full knowledge of their legal breaches.

Despite this evidence, Norway and France still plan to fund an US$18 million programme which includes funding for the expansion of industrial logging in DRC – in direct contradiction of their climate and forest protection goals. The programme will also provide support to companies like Norsudtimber and Cotrefor. Cotrefor was previously exposed as having links to terrorist sanctions-listed individuals.

While their DRC forest funds – funnelled through the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) – have been temporarily frozen, Norway and France plan to proceed with the programme as soon as the DRC government meets certain conditions.

The report “Total Systems Failure” shows how a global web of secrecy – made up of tax havens and shell companies listed in Liechtenstein, Dubai and Hong Kong – is facilitating this illegal international trade whilst protecting three Portuguese brothers at the head of the company from scrutiny.

The main importers of timber – China, Vietnam, France and Portugal – are also failing to stop Norsudtimber’s trading as they have either not established or not enforced existing laws banning illegal timber imports. China and Vietnam have no laws in place to prevent the import of illegal timber, while France and Portugal are failing to enforce the EU Timber Regulation.

Jules Caron, campaigner from Global Witness said:

“Norsudtimber is cutting down DRC’s rainforest illegally and profiting from it, thanks to a secretive corporate structure relying on tax havens. It is no surprise that there is no rule of law in DRC, but it is shocking that Norway and France want to fund industrial exploitation of a rainforest and support law-breaking and emissions-producing companies, in direct contradiction of its climate commitments.”

“As Norway and France host major forest protection conferences this week in Oslo and Paris, they must demonstrate real commitment to fighting climate change by announcing they will not support the expansion of industrial logging in DRC’s rainforest.”

“It is not too late to halt companies like Norsudtimber in their tracks - and prevent the further destruction of one of the world’s most climate-critical rainforests.”

“Norway and France should immediately announce that they will not fund this new programme as it will also support law-breaking companies like Norsudtimber, and another company, Cotrefor, linked to terrorist-sanctions listed individuals”. 

Eva Joly, Member of the European Parliament for Europe Ecologie/Les Verts :

"The revelations of the latest Global Witness report on illegal logging in the Democratic Republic of Congo are particularly worrisome. If President Macron really wants to "make our planet great again" and fight climate change, he must stop all funding going to industrial exploitation of the largest untouched tropical forest in Africa. "

 "As Global Witness demonstrates in its latest report, the environmental damages caused by massive illegal logging have enormous consequences on those living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also on global climate. France and Norway must ensure that they play no role at all in the expansion of industrial logging in the DRC, whether through financing programs or imports."   

Find our more about the full investigation here



Notes to editor:

  • Video, photograph and satellite content is available on request.
  • Interview opportunities with members of the Congo Forests campaign team at Global Witness are also available on request.
  • Between 2013 and 2017, Norsudtimber exported to China and Vietnam (78%) and to the following European countries (11%): Portugal, France, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, and Germany, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, Bulgaria, UK, Netherlands.  10% of Norsudtimber’s exports went in smaller volumes to other countries across Asia and the Americas, including the United States.
  • Norway is hosting governments and stakeholders from across the world at the Oslo Tropical forest forum this week, which will discuss how to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD+), now part of the international Paris Agreement.
  • France is hosting European governments in a major deforestation summit of the Amsterdam Group on 27 June in Paris. France’s climate plan includes a goal to end deforestation, and the government is planning a new national strategy on imported deforestation.
  • Norway approved an US$18 million programme, proposed by the French Development agency, at a technical committee meeting on 18 April, as part of the Central African Forest Initiative (a REDD+ initiative, majority-funded by Norway and supported by French development funds). This programme will support the DRC government to expand industrial logging and provide support to the country’s logging companies, including Norsudtimber and terrorist-sanctions linked company Cotrefor. This “high risk” proposal, called the Sustainable Forest Management programme, is due to be confirmed by Norway and France once DRC cancels three illegally allocated logging concessions. See briefing by Global Witness, Greenpeace and Rainforest Foundation Norway, June 2018 – Available upon request.
  • An expert analysis, commissioned by the French Development Agency, estimates that an expansion of industrial logging in DRC, which would be launched by this programme through the lifting of DRC’s moratorium on new logging concessions, could generate up to 35 million tonnes of extra CO2 emissions per year, thereby accelerating climate change.
  • Global Witness’ report includes detailed analysis of how donor-backed logging programmes, based on a theory called Sustainable Forest Management, lack scientific basis.
  • Global Witness’ report Unsanctioned trade exposed evidence indicating that Cotrefor, DRC’s second largest logger after Norsudtimber, is owned by a conglomerate, Congo Futur, controlled by members of the Lebanese Tajideen family. Congo Futur and members of the Tajideen family are listed on a US terrorist sanctions list.

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