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The Laundering Machine

How Fraud and Corruption in Peru's Concession System are Destroying the Future of its Forests

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In this report, EIA documents for the first time the systematic export and import of illegal wood from Peru to the United States. In many ways, this report not a new story: the system’s corruption is something of which everyone in the sector is aware. EIA’s contribution lies in having identified and patiently put together the pieces of the puzzle to reveal the mechanism that allows this trade to happen: what Peruvians call the “laundering machine”. EIA’s investigative work focused on reconstructing the routes that timber takes from the Amazon to the warehouses of US importers, through use of official information obtained under Peru’s Transparency and Access to Public Information Law. The links in this chain are willfully obscured to perpetuate confusion about the origins of almost all timber traded in Peru. EIA was able to reconstruct the chain of custody for trade in cedar (Cedrela odorata) and bigleaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) only because both species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) and thus require specific export permit documents. The same illegal modus operandi is being applied for other species, but the even more limited information available regarding non-CITES species trade makes it virtually impossible to connect the concession of origin with the shipments being exported.

By crossing public information on

(a) the “supervision” inspections conducted by the Supervisory Body for Forest Resources and Wildlife (OSINFOR for its Spanish acronym) on a series of timber concessions

with

(b) the documentation for CITES export permits for cedar and mahogany, EIA identified more than 100 shipments containing illegally logged CITES wood that were exported to the US between January 2008 and May 2010 – that is, more than 35% of all such shipments with CITES permits that left Peru for the US during this period.

Illegal logging is a lucrative business. Expenses other than transport costs are low, without any concern for decent wages or environmental practices. A large old rainforest tree may produce around three cubic meters of export-quality wood, and exporters receive about US $1,700/m3 for mahogany or almost $1,000/m3 for cedar. In the US, the prices are even more dramatic: the wood from a single Peruvian mahogany tree can fetch over $11,000 on the US lumber market, and that from a single cedar tree over $9,000.

Peru’s primary exporter, Maderera Bozovich, exported shipments under 152 CITES permits during this time, at least 45% of which included wood of illegal origin. It is likely that more supervisions in the field would discover that these percentages are actually higher.

Beyond the Peruvian specifics, even beyond the forest sector, this report speaks to a problem applicable to the entire international trade in plants and wildlife: a “stamp” on an official document is not sufficient guarantee of something’s actual legality in many countries. This is a key issue in the context of laws like the U.S. Lacey Act, where the buyer is legally responsible for their products’ possible illegalities, even if s/he did not set out intentionally to buy illegal goods.

This means that importers, to achieve real compliance, need to go beyond asking for an official document in order to feel confident about the legal origin of the products they want to purchase. For Peru this could have tough consequences since, if importers conclude that they cannot rely on the oversight of national authorities, it is possible they will opt for suppliers in other countries where the system of control offers better guarantees of legal origin.

To download this report click here

La máquina lavadora: cómo el fraude y la corrupción en el Sistema de concesiones están destruyendo el futuro de los bosques de Perú En este informe EIA logra documentar por primera vez la exportación e importación sistemática de madera ilegal de Perú a EEUU. Aquí no se cuenta una historia nueva: la corrupción en el sistema forestal y cómo funciona es algo que todos en el sector conocen. El aporte de EIA está en haber identificado y recolectado pacientemente las piezas y haber armado el rompecabezas para develar el mecanismo que permite realizar este comercio, y al que llamamos “la máquina lavadora”.

La investigación de EIA se enfocó en reconstruir la ruta que sigue la madera desde la Amazonía hasta los almacenes de los importadores en EEUU, utilizando documentación oficial obtenida a través de la ley Peruana de transparencia. Las piezas de esta cadena se han mantenido intencionalmente desconectadas para perpetuar la confusión sobre el origen la madera Peruana. EIA logró reconstruir la cadena de custodia para el comercio de cedro (Cedrela odorata) y caoba (Swietenia macrophylla) porque ambas especies están protegidas bajo la Convención sobre el Comercio Internacional de Especies Amenazadas de Fauna y Flora Silvestres (CITES) y por lo tanto requieren documentación especial para su exportación. El mismo modus operandi viene siendo utilizado para otras especies, pero como la información es aún más escasa sobre el comercio de especies no-CITES, en estos casos resulta virtualmente imposible conectar las concesiones de origen con los cargamentos exportados.

Cruzando la información pública obtenida sobre

(a) las supervisiones realizadas por el Organismo de Supervisión de los Recursos Forestales y de Fauna Silvestre (OSINFOR) a una serie de concesiones madereras

con

(b) la documentación de los permisos CITES para la exportación de caoba y cedro, EIA identificó más de cien embarques con madera de origen ilegal que fueron exportados de Perú a EEUU entre enero del 2008 y mayo del 2010 - esto es, más del 35% del total de estos permisos CITES de Perú a EEUU para ese periodo.

La tala ilegal es un negocio lucrativo. Con excepción del transporte, los costos son bajos y no hace falta preocuparse por salarios decentes o prácticas ambientalmente responsables. Un árbol grande de la selva puede producir alrededor de tres metros cúbicos de madera de calidad de exportación y los exportadores pueden recibir unos US$1,700/m3 de caoba o US$1,000/m3 de cedro.1 Los precios son aún mejores en el mercado de EEUU: la madera de un árbol de caoba Peruana se puede vender en US$11,000 y la de un cedro en más de US$9,000.

Entre enero del 2008 y mayo del 2010, el principal exportador Peruano, Maderera Bozovich, exportó bajo 152 permisos CITES, el 45% de los cuales incluyó madera de origen ilegal. Es probable que más supervisiones en campo descubran que estos porcentajes son en realidad mayores.

Más allá del caso Peruano y más allá del sector forestal, este informe plantea una problemática que aplica a todo el comercio internacional de flora y fauna silvestre: un “sello” en un documento oficial no es garantía suficiente de la legalidad del producto. Este tema cobra suma importancia en el contexto de normas como La Ley Lacey , donde el comprador es responsable legalmente por las posibles ilegalidades del producto, incluso si no tenía la intención de comprar productos ilegales.

Esto significa que los importadores tienen que ir más allá de pedir un documento con un sello para realmente cumplir con la ley y tener seguridad respecto del origen legal de los productos en cuestión. Para el Perú esto podría tener duras consecuencias ya que, si los importadores concluyen que no pueden confiar en el monitoreo de las autoridades nacionales, es posible que opten por proveedores de otros países cuyos sistemas de control ofrezcan mayores garantías sobre la legalidad del origen del producto. Para leer este informe, haga clic aquí.

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