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In financial terms, environmental crime is the third largest crime sector in the world.
During the September meeting of the project parties in Kyiv, Ukraine INTERPOL informed attendees that in financial terms, environmental crime is the third largest crime sector in the world. Environmental crime amounted to 110-281 billion USD in 2018, in which forest crime and illegal logging represented 51-152 billion USD.
“Environmental crimes, including forest crime, are an international problem. We launched the EU ISF Forestry Crime Project with the support of the European Union to combine the experience of INTERPOL law enforcement agencies with the experience of WWF environmental experts, and Central and Eastern European regulatory law enforcement and judicial authorities to fight against forest crime,” - explains Johannes Zahnen from WWF-Germany. “The results of this joint work will serve as the basis for training police, customs officials, environmental authorities, prosecutors and judges in the countries of the region, and a establish a foundation to update their forest laws.”
According to INTERPOL, wood-related violations occur along the entire production and supply chain: logging, transportation, processing and export (for example, falsified documents). Law enforcement officials also note illegal logging cases in which corrupt officials, tax evasion and money laundering play parts.
“The EU ISF Forestry Crime Project is tailor-made to fight corruption in the forestry sector. INTERPOL’s work focuses on an inter-agency approach to better address forestry crime through an enhanced law enforcement response to better enforce EU timber regulations. One of our main goals is to raise awareness on organised crime operating in the forestry sector, and for criminals who are generating huge benefits in this crime sector to face higher risks and sentences,” - said Sasa Braun, a criminal intelligence officer with INTERPOL’s environmental security programme.
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 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. During the meeting In September with representatives of Ukrainian state bodies related to counteracting forest crime, INTERPOL introduced the latest approaches for identifying illegal wood. For example, DNA and isotope studies can provide clear data on the origin of the material.
“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.
However, since regional legislation and field of forest management standards are imperfect, the introduction of the latest forensic methods is not enough to overcome forest crime in the region. Realising this, the EU and individual CEE countries are ready to strengthen their forest laws and enforcement, and can rely on the EU ISF Forestry Crime Project partner network for the analysis of existing gaps in national laws and recommendations.
According to environmental non-governmental organization Client Earth, there are 28 countries just in the EU that should amend their legislation to facilitate implementation of joint methods to influence offenders. In particular, proportionality of penalties should be synchronised so that for the same violation there is not a 100,000 Euro fine while in another more than a million Euros.
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