Interpol arrested nearly 200 people and seized millions of dollars' worth of timber as its first international operation against large-scale illegal logging targeted Latin America's large illicit timber market.
Running from September to November 2012, "Operation Lead" brought together law enforcement agencies from 12 Latin American countries affected by illegal logging, from Costa Rica to Paraguay.
Officials carried out inspections and investigations targeting freight vehicles, retailers, and individuals and set up surveillance and monitoring at ports and transport hubs, according to Interpol. In total, officials seized over 50,000 m3 of wood -- equivalent to 2,000 truckloads -- worth approximately $8 million and arrested 194 people. Investigations into 118 more people are still ongoing.
According to the head of Interpol's Environmental Crime Program, David Higgins, the operation will form the base for future efforts to tackle the global trade, which has an estimated annual worth of $30 billion to $100 billion.
InSight Crime Analysis
Latin America's vast forests and jungles spread over isolated territories far from the reach of law enforcement agencies makes many countries ideal for illegal logging. The trade is particularly widespread in Brazil, where several anti-logging campaigners have been murdered. In Colombia and Peru, the trade is believed to overlap with organized crime and drug trafficking, although to what extent remains unclear.
The illicit wood trafficking trade has also grown exponentially in Nicaragua, which has seen the formation of a "wood mafia" to feed Chinese demand for timber. However, the Central American country was not included in the Interpol operation.
As Interpol points out, because of the transnational nature of the trade, any attempts to crack down on wood trafficking require not only the involvement of international agencies such as Interpol, but also improved communication and cooperation between different national law enforcement agencies in the affected areas.