Conservation news

Videos detail corruption in massive illegal Peruvian timber case

New information from undercover video sheds some light on one of the biggest global timber scandals in recent history, the Yacu Kallpa. The 15 video clips, released by NGO Global Witness, show Peruvian timber executives describing how they’ve been willfully complicit in buying and selling illegally-sourced timber, particularly in the Yacu Kallpa case. Much of the timber they describe was obtained in the Peruvian Amazon.

The Yacu Kallpa was a massive container ship that moved the largest load of captured illegal timber in the history of Peru. It was over 1,312 cubic meters of illegal wood, according to Peru’s customs and tax enforcer, Sunat. Much of the stolen wood came from indigenous communities, from families of farmers and even from the lands of the Peruvian state itself, and was transported in three trips during 2015. It was enough to the freight capacity of 60 semi-trailers, according to one assessment by Peruvian investigative media outlet OjoPúblico.

The timber was sent out in three shipments bound for the US, and was detained and then released in late 2016 despite proof it was illegal, reported OjoPúblico. According to the report, Mexican authorities caved to pressure from the Mexican and Peruvian timber sectors on the third shipment. All of the timber ultimately ended up in Mexico, the United States and the Dominican Republic.

Video released by Global Witness shows that some executives involved with the timber on the Yacu Kallpa were aware of the questionable origin of the wood. The NGO notes that it demonstrates that despite public claims, exporters know that documents do not guarantee legal origin of timber.

Many of the 15 video clips are of Dante Zevallos, from exporting company Sico Maderas. Zevallos describes the process to illegally launder timber through the sale and purchase of transport permits. Forest owners who are legally allowed to harvest and sell timber from their forests instead sell their permit papers to those logging illegally.

“If I go to this same forest and say ‘I am going to get some papers for this timber so I can extract it,’ this tree miraculously becomes legal timber, just because of a piece of paper,” Zevallos said in one video clip.

Zevallos was president of the association of Loreto timber operators at the time the videos were made. He said he was scared because he knew he was buying illegal timber.

“At any moment they can raid us…I knew!” he said in one video.

In another video, William Castro, from Inversiones WCA, describes an agreement he claims to have struck with regional governor Fernando Meléndez, which Castro calls ‘part of the corruption.’

According to Castro, the idea was that he would process some timber for Meléndez and, in exchange, the governor would help release Castro’s timber detained in Mexico. Castro admits that his timber on the Yacu Kallpa in November 2015 was “illegal,” but blames the regional government.

Knowingly transporting or exporting the timber in question by any of those who knew the origin was illegal could land offenders in jail for up to seven years, according to Peruvian law.

Much of the dialogue in the videos pertains to frustration with permitting processes, land demarcations, corruption, and bureaucracy. The videos were released by Global Witness as part of an undercover investigation alongside their report, Buyers in Good Faith: How Timber Exporters are Complicit in Plundering Peru’s Amazon. All videos (Spanish with English subtitles) can be found here.

FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page.