An INTERPOL-coordinated operation codenamed Arcadia LAC has recovered more than 80 truckloads (more than 1,200 cubic meters) of illegal timber from forests across Latin America and the Caribbean. The value of the seized timber is estimated at more than $700,000.
Concluding April 15, the operation mobilized law enforcement – including police, customs and forest authorities – from 12 countries in the region to uncover and disrupt illegal timber trafficking and associated crimes.
In total, 287 incidents were reported over the operation’s month-long tactical phase in which participating law enforcement agencies carried out intelligence-led activities in priority areas, with a focus on identifying and countering organized crime groups involved in timber trafficking.
Sixty-nine individuals were arrested during the operation and several firearms were seized.
“Intelligence gathered during Operation Arcadia LAC shows that illegal logging is taking place at an alarming rate in some of the world’s most valuable biodiversity reserves,” said Ilana de Wild, INTERPOL’s Director of Organized and Emerging Crime.
“This harm to the environment means that, wherever forestry crime takes place, its devastating impact is felt globally. These crimes are inflicting damage on ecosystems that may prove impossible to restore,” Ms de Wild added.
Environmental crime is the third largest form of transnational organized crime in the world. Globally, the illegal timber trade is estimated to be worth up to $152 billion per year, representing nearly half the illicit proceeds of all environmental crime.
Latin America and the Caribbean are home to 50 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity and a quarter of the world’s tropical forests, according to the United Nations (UN) Environment Program. The region is also one of the main points of origin for the global timber trade, legal and illegal.
The high demand for timber around the world, which has risen to new highs in the past year, risks seeing organized crime groups further their involvement in illegal logging and timber trafficking, exploiting the sector’s wide profit margins to finance other illicit activities. The demand can also fuel a rise in associated crimes, such as fraud, money laundering and corruption.
“Today, timber traffickers are using modern logistics and financial systems that span beyond any one country or region,” said Cindy Buckley, Assistant Director, Illicit Markets at INTERPOL. “The complexity of these schemes mean that it is only through combined multi-agency efforts along the supply chain and at international level that law enforcement can have a meaningful impact.”
Operation Arcadia LAC benefited from the support of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, a fellow member of the Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) – supported by Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) – and of the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).