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At least one third of harvested timber is smuggled from Far East region

Illegal logging rates catastrophic, experts say

One third of timber goes on export from Russia’s Primorsky Territory illegally, Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily wrote.

The timber complex is one of the region’s budget revenue generating industries. The Far East ranks Russia’s first in forest areas and second in timber reserves. However, the Far East remains one of the most unfavorable regions by the timber smuggling rate. “The Federal Forestry Agency reports that from 50 to 70 percent of illegal logging cases remain unrevealed. Police statistics reflects only 25 percent of crimes in this industry,” the daily wrote.

The Primorsky Territory leads by the number of criminal cases against timber smugglers. The Khabarovsk Territory comes second and the Amur region third. This is explained by specifics of these territories - their total timber reserves exceed 5 billion cubic meters. According to expert estimates, no less than one third of timber goes abroad, mainly to China, illegally.

“This is a huge business. Global experts say there are two regions on the globe, where illegal logging rates became catastrophic. These are Africa’s Cameroon and Russia’s Far East,” the director of Vladivostok’s organized crime research centre, Vitaly Nomokonov, was quoted as saying. “But the official information reduces the share of illegal logging to 1-3 percent.”

The timber industry remains the most criminal one. It involves networks of individuals and organizations specialized in export of illegal timber, non-return of export currency revenues and money laundering. “Until recently round timber has been simply bought for cash from Russia’s criminal structures. At the same time domestic production capacities are used only by 30 percent,” he said. “Many Chinese business people themselves visited logging sites to buy timber for cash. There was a network of timber buying spots, where illegal timber could have been bought on knock-down prices through smugglers. The situation slightly changed after customs duties had been raised.”

A survey conducted by the New Challenges and Threats Study Centre showed that 37 percent of respondents among experienced law enforcers assessed the percentage of illegal logging in the region’s total output from 25 to 50 percent. Many factors affect this - imperfect laws, low efficiency and low skills of law enforcement bodies, corruptness, weak control over the traffic of raw materials and bioresources, the region’s near-border location and difficult social and economic situation.

The survey demonstrated that most of the polled policemen expressed confidence that the crime detection rate in this sphere did not exceed 10 percent. The majority of the respondents (92 percent) believe that organized criminal groups work in this sphere, while 47 percent point to transnational nature of timber mafia.

“Timber smuggling as a negative social phenomenon has qualitatively changed in recent decades. Illegal logging is organized professionally with the use of modern technologies. These crimes pose a serious threat to national security as concerns both environment and economy,” said Alexander Sukharenko, director of the New Challenges and Threats Study Centre.