Press release | March 14, 2019

Ten European companies could be importing illegal Congo timber worth millions to the EU, new Global Witness investigation reveals

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New briefing reveals how ten EU traders are importing timber from Industrie Forestière du Congo (IFCO), a logging company in Democratic Republic of Congo accused of flouting forest and labour laws.
    • As well as wreaking havoc on climate-critical rainforests, this could be a direct breach of the European Union Timber Regulation, a landmark piece of legislation that carries stiff penalties.
    • These European companies, who together have placed illegal or high-risk timber worth €2 million on the European market, should refrain from buying from IFCO while they investigate these apparent legal breaches.
    • Global Witness also urgently calls on authorities in France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Portugal and Belgium to act now and properly enforce EU timber laws.
    • Satellite analysis by Global Witness shows that IFCO has illegally logged outside of permitted boundaries, and that it carried out extensive logging while its operations were suspended by provincial authorities.

      Thursday 14th March 2019 – Ten European companies could be breaking important EU legislation on illegal logging, a new briefing by Global Witness reveals today.

      The anti-corruption NGO exposes how traders in six different EU member states could be in breach of the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR), by buying timber from Industrie Forestière du Congo (IFCO) – a company flouting forest laws in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

      The briefing outlines how IFCO, the second biggest timber exporter in the DRC, has illegally logged outside of permitted boundaries. During 2018 the company also carried out extensive logging while its operations were suspended by authorities for breaches of DRC’s labour and environmental laws.

      And it shows how companies based in France, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Poland have together placed over 1,400m3 of IFCO’s high-risk timber, with a value of approximately €2 million, on the EU market in the space of five short months during 2018.

      IFCO is a recently created company that has inherited logging rights and operations belonging to Cotrefor, a notorious logging company accused of a series of illegal activities. Cotrefor was also the subject of alleged links to a Lebanese conglomerate that is sanctions-listed by the US Treasury as a financial supporter of Hezbollah.   

      Under the EUTR, companies must be able to show they have taken clear steps to reduce the risk that timber imported to the EU has been illegally harvested. IFCO’s European clients that are listed in the briefing are named as:

      • Exott, Belgium
      • TimTrade, Italy
      • Edwood, France
      • Angot Bois, France
      • JAF Polska, Poland
      • France Noyer, France
      • Interarrod, Portugal
      • Timbearth, France
      • Carbon Market Timber, France

      In addition, significant shipments of IFCO timber to the port of Valencia took place in August 2018. These appear to have been facilitated by a Spanish timber agent. When contacted by Global Witness, the agent strongly denied being the importer of this timber. Global Witness is contacting authorities in Spain, requesting them to conduct an investigation. 

      Colin Robertson, Campaigner, Global Witness said:

      “It has been six years since the EU Timber Regulation came into force, and this is yet another case of illegal or high-risk timber coming into EU ports, seemingly unchecked by authorities.

      “Illegal logging is a serious contributor to climate change, and weak enforcement risks undermining the EU’s efforts to combat it. Companies also need to look much more seriously at their supply chains, and make sure that they are not dealing in illegally logged timber.

      The illegalities revealed in our briefing today suggest that IFCO – like its predecessor Cotrefor – cannot be trusted to respect DRC’s laws. This should give serious cause for concern to any company importing IFCO timber into the EU.”

      / ENDS


      Notes to editor:

      • INTERVIEWS: Are available in English and French on request. Please e-mail [email protected] or call 0044 7828 505 758 to arrange.
      • BRIEFING: An embargoed copy of the briefing can be provided on request. Please e-mail [email protected] to arrange.
      • PHOTOGRAPHS: Available on request.
      • Global Witness’ report ‘Unsanctioned Trade’ exposed evidence indicating that Cotrefor, DRC’s second largest logger after Sodefor, was controlled by a conglomerate, Congo Futur, controlled by members of the Lebanese Tajideen family. Congo Futur and some members of the Tajideen family are listed on a US terrorism sanctions list.
      • About Global Witness: Global Witness investigates and campaigns to change the system by exposing the economic networks behind conflict, corruption and environmental destruction.
      • European traders importing timber from IFCO must ensure that they investigate and address the specific illegalities raised in this briefing, as part of their due diligence. If they cannot eliminate the risk that these illegalities are ongoing, they should cease buying timber from IFCO in order to avoid high penalties under EU timber laws.
      • In addition, any traders dealing with IFCO should seek to mitigate the risk that the company maintains ongoing financial ties with the business empire of the Lebanese Tajideen family, members of which have been sanctions-listed by the US Treasury as Hezbollah financiers. In order to mitigate this risk, timber traders should demand full disclosure of IFCO’s real owners.  
      • The DRC’s forestry authorities should investigate IFCO’s activities during 2017 and 2018. They should seek to establish the extent to which the company’s logging operations took place outside of authorised boundaries, and whether the company breached the law by flouting the decision of provincial authorities to suspend their activities. 

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