Corruption and illegal logging: the “twins” of environmental criminality

Without serious intervention against corruption, it will be impossible to address the problem of illegal timber trafficking in Europe. Presenting its findings in Rome, the TREES project has successfully shed light on the role that bribes play in encouraging the illegal timber trade in Europe.

“Corruption is strongly connected to the illegal timber trade, but at the same time appears to be a ‘victimless crime’,” said Antonio Brunori, Secretary General of PEFC Italy, a TREES partner.

Identifying corruption
It is traditionally very hard to identify corruption, as it is based on an agreement between several parties, all involved with mutual benefits. Moreover, the corruption (at least formally) produces documents that hide the irregularities – when all the documents appear to be legal and correct, it is extremely difficult to detect the crime.

“It is vital that we act to minimize this type of criminal activity occurring within the forestry sector, in order to minimize the damage to the environment and the enterprises that work legally,” Mr. Brunori continued. “The findings from the TREES project will provide an important starting point.”

The problem of illegal trafficking of timber is widespread. Interpol indicates that this phenomenon provides organized crime a turnover between 30 and 100 billion Euros every year – an income second only to the drugs trade.

Focus on the Balkans
According to the European Parliament, about the 20% of the total wood imported into Europe is illegal, with the Balkans standing out as an area where corruption makes this illegal importation easier to do.

“Corruption in the Balkans is deeply-rooted and widespread, and for this reason it is hard to denounce it,” explained Lorenzo Segato from RISSC – Research Centre on Security and Crime. “In fact, there are even well-oiled and branched organizations who know safe routes to export illegal products.”

For fighting the illegal logging and the illegal timber trade, an intervention on the already existing European normative is needed. From 2013, the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) has been a useful tool to combat the phenomenon, but it appears that this is not enough.

“It is still early to assess in depth the effects of the EUTR,” continued Mr. Segato. “But certainly, through the survey carried out during the TREES project, we noticed a poor understanding of the EU Timber Regulation.”

“Together with the EUTR implementation, three corrective actions seem to be necessary: involving the actors engaged in the import of wood; leveraging technological tools making it harder to falsify the documents; and introducing incentives to support operators working legally.”
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