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Authorities stop ‘greatest destroyers of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest’

Group responsible for crimes worth more than $220 million, could face decades in prison

A criminal organization involved in the illicit deforestation of large portions of Brazil’s forests has been stopped. At least six members of the organization, described by authorities as the “the greatest destroyers of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest,” have been arrested as of Aug. 28, with warrants issued for others.

Police apprehended five men and one woman in the Brazilian state of Para, with a total of 14 warrants issued across four states. The warrants and arrests came as the result of a joint investigation called “Operation Chestnut” between the Brazilian Institute of environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), the Federal Police, the IRS, and federal prosecutors. The operation’s moniker was inspired by a species of protected chestnut tree that is considered a symbol of the Amazon.

A lone Brazil nut tree sits on the edge of a cleared forest in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
A lone Brazil nut tree sits on the edge of a cleared forest in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

The organization is accused of invading, logging, and burning areas of public land, then selling them as farming and grazing allotments. All told, their crimes are worth more than $220 million.

The group even targeted national parks, including Jimanxim National Park in western Para. According to data from Global Forest Watch, Jimanxim lost approximately 9,000 hectares of – or 1.3 percent – of its forests between 2001 and 2013. It is as-yet unknown how much of this loss is attributable to the organization in question. The park is home to the bare-eyed antibird (Rhegmatorhina gymnops), which has a very small range and is listed by the IUCN as Vulnerable due to habitat loss.

The organization’s members will be charged with invasion of public lands, theft, tax evasion, environmental crimes, forgery, conspiracy, and money laundering. If convicted, the sentence for all charges could exceed 50 years in prison – however, under Brazilian law the maximum sentence is 30 years.

Brazil has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. According to Global Forest Watch, the country lost more than 36 million hectares of forest between 2001 and 2013. However, the rate has decreased 80 percent since 2004 despite the Brazil’s economic growth, and the country’s leaders have pledged to reduce deforestation a further 80 percent by 2020 if supported by big business.

The organization conducted illegal clearing in national parks and forests, such as Jimanxim National Park, which overall lost 1.3 percent of its forests in just over a decade. Map courtesy of Global Forest Watch. Click to enlarge.

Satellite image of a cleared are in Jimanxim National Park. Smoke from fires is visible in the lower portion of the image. Courtesy of Global Forest Watch. Click to enlarge.


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