Mar 21, 2012

Mexico Rule of Law: World Bank says Illegal logging generates $15 billion per year, controlled by crime

La Jornada: "The probability that Mexico, a veritable forest predator, is punished is one of the lowest in the world. A new international study found evidence of a connection between loggers and organized crime groups, with annual, multimillion dollar profits which fund their criminal networks.

The study, prepared by the World Bank entitled “Justice in the forest: Improving Criminal Justice’s Efforts to Combat Illegal Logging,” reports that each year, illegal logging generates between $10 billion and $15 billion in criminal assets, money largely controlled by organized crime, on which they pay no taxes and is used to bribe corrupt government officials at all levels.

In the case of Mexico, the probability that the crime of illegal logging is punished is 0.085 percent, or fewer than one one in every 100, documented the study which was published on Tuesday.

Compliance with laws relating to forest protection to stop or deter illegal logging is very lax in many countries, the study says. It cites research conducted over the course of four years in four natural resource-rich nations: Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines. According to the study, compliance with laws and regulations relating to the protection of natural resources and biodiversity is abysmal in the four countries.

One of the factors which prevents compliance with laws protecting forest resources, in addition to corruption, is the lack of coordination between authorities, sas the study, which specifically mentions Mexico in this regard.

“Those involved in the enforcement and execution of laws governing the protection of natural resources (researchers, police, prosecutors, and judges) traditionally do not work in coordination and this lack of cooperation is often an obstacle to effective law enforcement.,” it says.

It continues: “For example, a study in four different countries found that a common challenge related to the lack of enforcement was poor cooperation between the different units. One of the causes of inefficient enforcement in Mexico was the deficient collaboration between the offices charged with environmental protection,” it added.

Using data on the extent of illegal logging, the relationship between that activity and organized crime, and its ability to generate profits for criminal gangs, the study points to the need for the greater inclusion of local and international criminal justice strategies to combat illegal logging.

Illegal logging in forests has reached such a magnitude that the study describes it in the following terms: every two seconds, an area the size of a soccer field is logged in an illegal manner, and in some countries up to 90 percent of all logging is illegal.

Annually, this activity generates between $10 billion and $15 billion in “criminal assets,” money that is “mostly controlled by organized crime.” Up until today, preventative actions to combat illegal logging “that have been focused on efforts at the local and international levels have not had a significant impact.”

The efforts have not been so comprehensive. The efforts of judicial bodies to combat illegal logging have traditionally targeted low-level offenders who engage in illegal logging due to poverty. However, large scale illegal logging operations are almost always connected to high-level corruption and organized crime networks.

The study emphasizes the need to develop an integrated criminal justice strategy for illegal logging that points to high-level corruption and to the companies that pay the bribes. This strategy, it says, should promote systematic investigations, prosecutions and the confiscation of criminal assets, and focus on large-scale, organized illegal logging activities.

It also aims to improve local cooperation between official agencies involved in combating illegal logging and to engage the private sector to examine the financial dimension of related crime and assets. The best use of financial intelligence compiled by financial institutions and other entities charged with reporting suspicious transactions is key, the report says, for the successful investigation of illegal logging and related money laundering activities. It also considers it necessary to involve actors from civil society that can help governments, law enforcement, and the judiciary to combat illegal logging and related offenses." Spanish original

Translation: Michael Kane, Center for International Policy, intern

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