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Search warrant executed at Global Plywood over alleged Lacey Act violations

  • A search warrant executed earlier this month at the premises of California-based Global Plywood and Lumber was issued on the basis of probable cause that the company had smuggled illegal timber into the United States in violation of the Lacey Act, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reports.
  • The warrant describes proactive collaboration between authorities in the U.S. and Peru to hold players in the illegal timber trade accountable, according to the EIA.
  • This is the latest in a string of Lacey Act enforcement actions taken by the US government since the law was amended in 2008 to prohibit the trade in illegally forested wood and wood products.

A search warrant executed earlier this month at the premises of California-based Global Plywood and Lumber was issued on the basis of probable cause that the company had smuggled illegal timber into the United States in violation of the Lacey Act, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reports.

The warrant describes proactive collaboration between authorities in the U.S. and Peru to hold players in the illegal timber trade accountable, according to the EIA. Global Plywood was found to be importing “significant quantities” of Amazonian timber into the U.S. that had been declared illegal by the Peruvian government.

Alexander von Bismarck, EIA’s executive director, said that this collaborative model holds great promise for further enforcement against the international black market in wood products.

“We have documented the devastating environmental, economic, and human impacts of illegal logging in Peru for years, which included the assassination of Peru’s leading environmental defender Edwin Chota in 2014,” von Bismarck said in a statement. “The traders profiting from this stolen wood have long remained untouched. If this signals the beginning of real consequences for this massive international environmental crime, it will mark the beginning of hope for the future of the Amazon forest.”

Global Plywood was implicated in an Al Jazeera documentary in 2015 of importing illegal timber from Peru, but has continued to import wood from Peruvian company Inversiones La Oroza despite the fact that the supplier has been found to be laundering illegal timber on multiple occasions, the EIA said.

Mosaic deforestation near the Transoceanic highway in Peru. Photo by Rhett Butler.

The head of Peru’s independent forestry agency, OSINFOR, was abruptly terminated in January in what’s been viewed as an attempt to undermine enforcement efforts led by the agency as it sought to prevent illegal wood from flowing beyond its borders. The former OSINFOR head was eventually forced to leave the country altogether after receiving violent threats against him and the agency. Those threats became reality when OSINFOR’s regional offices in Pucallpa, Peru were later fire-bombed, the EIA reported.

Julia Urrunaga, EIA’s Peru Program Director, said that enforcement actions in importing countries like the U.S. are crucial.

“These actions from the importing country authorities are key and indispensable to support all the efforts being put in place by the Peruvian authorities to stop illegal logging and its illicit international trade,” Urrunaga said in a statement. “Illegal logging mafias are fueled by the international demand and pose a threat for the forests and for all the public and private actors who fight to stop it. Demand for illegal timber must be stopped.”

This is the latest in a string of Lacey Act enforcement actions taken by the US government since the law was amended in 2008 to prohibit the trade in illegally forested wood and wood products. The most high-profile cases so far involved Gibson Guitars and Lumber Liquidators.

Gibson avoided criminal prosecution by settling with the Department of Justice, but agreed to pay a $300,000 fine and an additional $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help promote the “conservation, identification and propagation of protected tree species used in the musical instrument industry and the forests where those species are found.”

Last year, Lumber Liquidators agreed to pay more than $13 million in fines and penalties for violating the Lacey Act. Significantly, the Lumber Liquidators plea deal also included an Environmental Compliance Plan as a condition of the settlement.

Illegal wood imports into the US have declined between 32 and 44 percent since the Lacey Act amendments went into effect, but researchers estimate that the US is still importing as much as $3 billion-worth of illegal wood every year.