Brazil Fells Massive Amazon Timber Fraud Ring

BRASILIA, Brazil, June 6, 2005 (ENS) - The Brazilian Federal Police have cracked a rainforest timber fraud ring involving dozens of people in four states. At least 45 employees of the National Environment Protection Agency, or IBAMA, have been arrested, the ministries of Justice and Environment said today.

Police have so far arrested 78 people suspected of involvement in timber extraction fraud and the arrests are still ongoing.

Four hundred and fifty federal police officers are executing 124 arrest and 168 search warrants in the states of Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, and Paraná. The warrants were issued by the Federal Justice of Cuiabá.

Police say the illegal timber ring has been operating for the past 14 years.

Employees of the National Environment Protection Agency (IBAMA) and employees of the State Foundation of Environment (FEMA) are accused of working with timber industry businessmen, pirate loggers and timber transporters to extract high value wood from the Amazon illegally.

The sting was announced this morning by Environment Minister Marina Silva and Justice Minister Márcio Thomaz Bastos. The head of IBAMA, Marcus Barros, is in Mato Grosso following the police operation. ministers

Justice Minister Márcio Thomaz Bastos and Environment Minister Marina Silva announce the timber fraud sting this morning in Brasilia. (Photo by Gervásio Baptista courtesy Ministerio do Meio Ambiente)

"The process is not over with these arrests," Silva said. The police crackdown "will help to fight corruption and also help to reduce the incidences of illegal deforestation."

The Federal Police say US$57.6 thousand (R$140 thousand) was seized at the residence of an IBAMA employee in Mato Grosso, as well as two imported cars, and an airplane.

Frauds included the sale of permits known as "Authorizations to Transport Forest Products" to 431 ghost timber companies.

Accused employees also filed fake reports and illegally authorized lumber exploration on indigenous lands.

Annoucing a new cooperative effort between the Justice Ministry and IBAMA, Justice Minister Bastos said, "Worse than corruption, is unpunished corruption."


Illegal logs seized by IBAMA in Brazil's Para State. (Photo credit unknown)
The government has suspended the issuance of new Authorizations of Transport of Forest Products for 30 days, and all current permits are discredited.

Legal actions for environmental damages have been filed against the companies and partners alleged to have participated in the fraud.

In the next 60 days, an industrial inspection of all forest companies in the State of Mato Grosso will be carried out to determine the authenticity of all permits with a final date of April 30.

Within 90 days, a government auditor will inspect all forest management plans and authorizations granted by IBAMA in Mato Grosso.

The ring is responsible for the illegal logging of 1.9 million cubic meters of wood, enough to fill 76,000 trucks, the Brazilian Environment Ministry said today. If lined up, the trucks would stretch from Rio De Janeiro to Brasilia.

The police operation, named Curupira after the Brazilian folk character that protects the forests, is the largest environmental crackdown in the history of the Federal Police.

The Ministry of Environment said that deforestation of the Amazon has increased 39 percent since 2002. The agency said the total deforested area covers 26,130 square kilometers.

During the four first months of this year, 52 thousand cubic meters of illegal logs have been seized in the Amazon.