WWF’s Cooperation with Interpol to Prevent Forest Crime in Central and Eastern Europe featured on ARTE TV.
Posted on 07 February 2020
Bringing together INTERPOL’s law enforcement expertise with WWF’s practical experience to halt illegal logging.Forest crime is a growing problem with links to organised crime and corruption - ranking 3rd in transnational crime in 2017. Illegal logging is recognised as a serious and looming threat to Europe’s last primeval forests in the Danube-Carpathian Region. The low legal and financial penalties for forest crimes in comparison to other crimes such as human or drug trafficking make such activities very appealing to organised crime. Illegal logging is also one of the main threats to local economies and the environment in the Danube-Carpathian Region. This is why WWF Central and Eastern Europe has been engaged in finding solutions to this tragedy in cooperation with civil society and authorities. ARTE TV recently aired an investigative report (English subtitles) in which WWF-Germany and Interpol visited officials, stakeholders and forest sites in Ukraine and Romania:
The professionalism of organised crime and its participation in forest crime is growing. Illegal wood is infiltrating the timber market by means of corruption, fraud and falsification of paperwork along the supply chain. Forest crime is not stopped through soft law enforcement and penalties, or through individual authorities. Joining forces and stronger networks are needed. WWF’s ISF Project with Interpol enables effective law enforcement by stimulating and increasing the capacity of networks to detect and respond to forest crime. The innovation lies in bringing together INTERPOL’s law enforcement expertise with WWF’s practical experience in supporting companies to avoid illegal wood. Strategies to boost law enforcement and investigations include information sharing, awareness-raising, capacity-building and investigative mentorship. Tailored trainings of police, customs, environmental authorities, prosecutors and judges cover knowledge-sharing on new forensic methods – a technique in which WWF has leading know-how – and guidance for effective controls by authorities. Joint Interpol-WWF trainings have already been held in Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Slovakia with local WWF offices and participants from a range of law enforcement agencies such as customs, forest rangers and police.
To fight against forest crime, INTERPOL experts use an inter-agency approach. Investigative actions take place at different levels, from physical observation and analysis of documentation to the use of forensic methods such as DNA and isotope studies to determine the origin of wood., INTERPOL is prepared to share not only its technologies with colleagues from CEE, but also support law enforcement investigations.
“When illegally felled wood enters the market, it is difficult to prove where it comes from, especially if it is accompanied by fake documents. The forensic methods are completely independent of the documentation, since they use information from the wood itself - at the level of DNA and isotopes, and this cannot be faked,” - explains Johannes Zahnen. – “In the laboratory we can get a lot of information from a small piece of wood - for example, what kind of wood it is and which region it comes from. This tool greatly enhances the work of law enforcement, prosecutors and judges. The results of these studies may become the basis for complaints to law enforcement agencies.”
Some of the latest research methods, such as the analysis of satellite images, and the analysis of DNA and isotopes in wood are already being applied in Ukraine. “During the implementation of the Forest Watch Project, our experts identified the location of illegal logging using multi-time satellite images of the territory indicated by local activists. Our Ukrainian experts and law enforcement officers did a comparative analysis of images, forestry maps and officially granted logging permits (logging tickets) to document the time of the offense. The State Environmental Inspectorate was able to calculate losses based on the results of field measurements. The case has already been under consideration in court for two years. Even so, effective work in this area still requires a change to the existing functions of protection, control and administration in the forest industry,” - says Dmytro Karabchuk, forest expert from WWF-Ukraine.
Increased forest crime has also led to growing violence in the sector
WWF Romania proposes a radical change of the wood selling system together with an associated system of combatting illegal logging. The new system of monitoring and control would happen at the point where wood is placed on the market. The current system of selling wood as standing timber without verification of wood products as they are placed on the market (as they exit the forest) constitutes the main cause of the illegal logging controversy in Romania. Foresters record transported volumes using numbers having two decimal places, while the legally permissible error for tree measurement in the forest exceed 20%. Less than 1% of the wood transports are verified as they leave the forest. The current legal framework (wood selling regulation, norms regarding the circulation of wood materials, forest protection regulations, the statute for forestry personnel, etc.) has imposed this inefficient, costly and dangerous (for control personnel) system. The integrated solutions to address illegal logging proposed and supported by WWF-Romania are found here.
“In order to protect the forest and the integrity of the forest staff, it is necessary to radically transform the current control system based on marking and guarding trees in the forest, into one focused on the control of the transportation of wood leaving the forest.” - Ionut Sorin Banciu, Regional Forests Coordinator, WWF Central and Eastern Europe
Forest crime is a growing problem with links to organised crime and corruption - ranking 3rd in transnational crime in 2017. Illegal logging is one of the primary threats to local economies and the local environment in the Danube Carpathian Region such as in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Ukraine). This project is the first to tackle this issue jointly (authorities plus civil society) on a larger scale. It is the only international initiative driven by a consortium of diverse partners to increase law enforcement, include forensics, community’s awareness and understanding of the forestry sector, the modus operandi and type of criminal activity involved.
This project is:
- training the main stakeholders to become more effective in fighting illegal timber trade;
- supporting law enforcement efforts and networking;
- encouraging NGOs to share information with law enforcement; including providing guidance to ensure the information is credible and reliable; and
- building trust between law enforcement and NGOs.
Forest crime is recognised as a significant and even growing problem that undermines government policies to sustainably manage and protect forests. Illegal logging accounts for as much as 10–30% of logging worldwide, with some estimates as high as 20–50% when laundering of illegal wood is included. Experts estimate that an area of forest equivalent in size to the territory of Austria disappears worldwide every year as the result of illegal logging. The situation is going from bad to worse with the growing engagement of organised crime.
Organised criminal networks are utilising an international network of quasi-legitimate businesses and corporate structures to hide their illegal activities. These illegal activities include creative accounting to launder criminal proceeds, collusion with senior government officials and computer hacking to obtain fake permits. Organised forest crime continues to evolve and develop new methods to conduct illegal logging operations and launder illegal timber and its criminal proceeds. Law enforcement must stay one step ahead of the criminals and maintain enforcement capacity.
Trading wood on the international market entails complex chains of custody which means illegal wood can be easily camouflaged e.g. through mixing legal with illegal wood or redirection of illegal wood through transit countries. The project aims to enable effective law enforcement by stimulating networks that are able to detect forest crime and respond to it. It will put forest crime high on their agenda. The innovation lies in bringing together INTERPOL’s law enforcement expertise with WWF’s practical experience in supporting companies to avoid illegal wood.
In Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Ukraine the project will focus on illegal logging within the EU and on transboundary forest crime. The project will allow INTERPOL to set up National Environmental Security Taskforces (NEST) and mentor them on real case investigations. Best practices will be shared across Europe at the end of the project. Project partners include: WWF-CEE, WWF-Germany, Interpol, WWF-Romania, WWF-France, WWF-Belgium, WWF-EPO and WWF-Bulgaria.
- WWF Works with Interpol to Prevent Forest Crime
- WWF and Interpol Team Up to Address Forest Crime in CEE
- ARTE TV report
Ionut Sorin Banciu,
Regional Forests Coordinator,
WWF Central and Eastern Europe
+40 21 317 49 96