New Report on Timber Trafficking in Peru
19 November 2017
On 9 November Global Witness launched a significant report on illegal logging in the Peruvian Amazon. An undercover investigation into the case of the attempted seizure of wood two years ago, from the ship Yacu Kallpa, has provided video evidence of Peruvian entrepreneurs admitting to realising all too well that their documents were false. For example, in one such recording, Dante Zevallos from the company Sico Maderas is quoted as saying "Even though I knew the wood probably had this origin, I wasn't worried because I had the paperwork that showed I was a good faith buyer" (quoted by Insight crime). Peru's penal code says export is a crime if 'se conoce o puede presumir' an illicit source - if the exporter knows it is illegal or it can be assumed to so be...
The story of the action against the ship Yacu Kallpa shows the trade at work. The ship was travelling its regular route between Iquitos, the Amazon, Brazil, Mexico to Houston in the US. The initial charge from the Peruvian public prosecutor was that 15% of the timber on board had been proved to be of illegal origin. After a long wrangle, the captain was allowed to depart on condition he returned with the 15% after dropping off the 'legal' part. By the time the ship reached Mexico, investigators had established that a full 96% of the cargo was illegal, and the whole cargo was impounded.
The case has illustrated, says Insight Crime, the 'slow, painstaking and highly specialized work' needed to prove illegality. There are a number of ways of covering up, documented by Global Witness. One involves the local forests designated for rural communities to meet their needs, with small amounts allowed to be commercialised. But it seems that most of the logging in such areas is large-scale and commercial. Another is to create false documents of origin as from the legal concessions, which are often poor quality and do not contain the type of timber or the quantity needed by the trade. Global Witness argues that all of this can only happen with the collusion of local government officials.
The operation led to a backlash: protests in Iquitos and Pucallpa, the firebombing of the government agency OSINFOR (Organismo de Supervision de Recursos Forestales y de Fauna Silvestre) and the sacking of its president, who had to leave the country following death threats. The new powers granted to the public prosecutors office were rolled back, says Global Witness.
Two years later, no prosecutions have yet been brought.