A new investigation by the U.S.-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) shows that the largest timber processor in Romania, the Austrian company Holzindustrie Schweighofer (Schweighofer), continues to buy illegally cut logs. This comes more than a year after EIA first exposed the company’s illegal sourcing. The full results of EIA’s investigation, carried out in September 2016, will be released in a series of short videos in the coming weeks.
The first video, just released by EIA, highlights the large number of “ghost trucks” arriving daily at Schweighofer’s three Romanian sawmills. Investigators tracked logging trucks delivering timber to Schweighofer’s mills back to the origins listed on officially-registered transportation documents. In about half of the cases, investigators found that the GPS coordinates of the official loading sites appear to be fake.
In order to combat illegal logging, Romanian law requires trucks to register the GPS coordinates of the location in the forest where logs are first loaded onto the truck. For nearly half the trucks observed by EIA entering Schweighofer facilities, the corresponding GPS coordinates showed locations that were nowhere near a forest, including private homes, cemeteries, and cornfields. In each case, investigators confirmed that no loading had recently occurred at or near the GPS coordinates listed in the document.
“EIA’s new findings follow years of stark evidence from NGOs and the media showing that Schweighofer’s sourcing policies incentivize illegal logging in Romania,” said EIA Eurasia Programs Coordinator David Gehl. “The company’s decades-long refusal to accept responsibility for ensuring legal sourcing has caused immeasurable damage to Europe’s last ancient intact forests.”
Romanian forest experts told EIA that using fake GPS coordinates on a timber truck’s official transport documents obscures the actual harvest location, preventing buyers or police from checking the actual origin of the timber. The high number of fake GPS coordinates found by EIA investigators on trucks delivering logs to Schweighofer is a disturbing sign that the company’s control systems remain insufficient for keeping out illegal timber.
As a result of EIA’s 2015 investigation, Romania’s Ministry of the Environment conducted its own investigation in May 2015 and found documentation of over 100,000 cubic meters of stolen logs in just one of Schweighofer’s mills. The case remains under investigation by Romania’s anti-organized crime prosecutors. In early 2016, FSC International launched an investigation into Schweighofer for violations of the FSC’s Policy of Association, which is set to conclude in early December 2016. If FSC’s investigation confirms that Schweighofer has been involved in illegal activities in Romania, Schweighofer could be disassociated from the FSC, including the termination of all its certificates.
In the coming weeks, EIA will release additional videos detailing evidence of continued sourcing of illegal timber by Schweighofer’s Romanian sawmills.
“EIA has long called on Schweighofer to publicly release key information about their log purchases,” said Gehl. “Schweighofer must urgently undertake tangible reforms, including opening up its supply chains to outside scrutiny through the release of detailed information about the forest concessions where each of its logs comes from.”