Countries can effectively combat the illegal exploitation of forests with the help of criminal justice systems, suppress organized crime and trace and confiscate unlawful gains from the felling of trees.
Indeed, every two seconds, a forest area comparable to the size of a football field is bleeding blank in the world by timber harvesters operating illegally. Entitled ‘ Justice for the forests: strengthening the fight against illegal logging criminal justice systems ‘, the report stresses that, to carry out effective action, law enforcement crime must investigate beyond small criminals and endeavour to identify the recipients of profits from illegal logging. By following the money trail and using the tools developed in some 170 countries to look for ‘dirty money’, criminal justice may pursue criminal organizations that engage in large-scale illegal logging operations and confiscate ill-gotten gains.
According to World Bank estimates, illegal cuts represent up to 90 percent of all logging activities in some countries and produce between 10 and 15 billion dollars in illicit revenues per year. These capital, mainly controlled by organized crime, tax-escape and used to pay bribes to corrupt officials at all levels of the administration.
The report today contains advice on action as well as operational recommendations for managers of public action and the management of forests and the application of the Act. The objective is to help integrate the question of the illegal exploitation of forests in criminal justice strategies, to promote national and international cooperation among public policy-makers, agencies responsible for the implementation of the Act and other relevant stakeholders, and to better exploit the available financial information.
‘We must fight organized crime in the field of the illegal exploitation of forests in the same way as we fight the criminals who sell drugs or engage in extortion,’ says Jean Pesme, head of the unit for the promotion of the integrity of the financial markets to the World Bank, whose mission is to help countries to implement legal frameworks and operational effective to fight illegal financial flows.
Despite overwhelming evidence showing that illegal logging is a global epidemic, most forest crimes unnoticed, are not reported or are ignored. Furthermore, the assessment of illicit profits generated by these offences does not account of the huge environmental, economic and social cost of these: threats to biodiversity, increase in carbon emissions, negative impact on the livelihoods of rural populations and enrichment of the criminals at the expense of the poor.
‘ It is essential to take preventive measures against the illegal exploitation of forests, but we also know that this is not enough ‘, says Magda Lovei, sector head at the World Bank. « Once implemented, the recommendations of this report can have the powerful deterrent effect which is lacking in many measures taken against loggers operating illegally ‘.
Organized crime networks that are behind the large-scale illegal slaughter operations participate in the corruption of the highest echelons of the State. Investigation on forest offences are also complicated by the international dimension of these operations. Aware of these difficulties, the authors of the report recommend focus the actions of repression on the ‘brains’ that lie behind these networks as well as the corrupt officials who protect them and allow them to carry out their activities.