Brussels, 25 July 2014
A major operation supported by the World Customs Organization (WCO) and INTERPOL targeting the criminal groups linked to the illegal timber trade in Peru has resulted in the seizure of wood and wood products worth 20.6 million US dollars. Illicit logging is estimated to cost Peru 250 million US dollars per year!
Operation Amazonas, held from March to May 2014, was conducted jointly by Peru Customs (SUNAT), the WCO and INTERPOL. Customs and law enforcement authorities in Brazil, China, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Peru participated in the Operation, together with INTERPOL’s National Central Bureaus in Brazil and Peru, as well as its Regional Bureaus in Argentina and El Salvador.
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 cubic meters 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, making it imperative for Customs and law enforcement authorities to act and to act now against this pernicious smuggling if we are to mitigate environmental degradation," said WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya. "I commend Peruvian Customs for leading Operation Amazonas, as well as all participating partners, including INTERPOL, the Peruvian forest authority (OSINFOR) and the Customs administrations of Brazil, China, the Dominican Republic and Mexico," added Mikuriya.
Operation Amazonas, the first collaboration between the WCO and INTERPOL 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 mislabelling of timber exports.
"Through their efforts in Operation Amazonas, Customs and law enforcement 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.
"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 Higgins.
Peruvian authorities estimate that illegal logging accounts for 40-60% of the total logging occurring in the country. Losses due to illegal logging are estimated at more than 250 million US dollars per year, or 1.5 times the value of Peru’s 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’s Chief Intendant 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," concluded Romero.
Operation Amazonas also included awareness-raising activities to educate the public, Customs 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, and an integral element of the WCO’s Compliance and Enforcement Package, developed to assist Customs administrations in addressing high-risk areas for Customs enforcement.
The WCO’s CENcomm system, a secure communication tool, was used to support intelligence exchange between participating countries during Operation Amazonas.