Der Spiegel: Romania’s ancient forests under siege by illegal loggers backed by Austrian companies
An investigation by German publication Der Spiegel shows that Romania’s forests, some of the oldest in Europe, are threatened by large-scale illegal deforestation. The journalists explain in the investigation how several Austrian companies with tens of thousands of employees have made profits by contracting Romanian suppliers who illegally cut down trees.
The forests that the German journalists write about are located in Moldova, in the county of Suceava. The report was based on a previous large-scale investigation by Romanian authorities in the town of Bogdănești, which involved approximately 1,800 Romanian investigators. Among the crimes investigated by local authorities were illegal deforestation, money laundering, and tax evasion.
The Romanian authorities' investigation also targeted two large Austrian timber industry companies, Egger and HS Timber. Egger is one of the most important producers of chipboard in the industry, with a turnover of over EUR 4 bln. The company also employs over 11,000 people.
Der Spiegel reports that Egger's subsidiary in Rădăuți is located at a short distance from the factory of the other large Austrian company in the industry, HS Timber, which was at the center of a scandal in 2015 involving the processing of illegally harvested timber from forests. Both companies are now accused of working with certain Romanian companies that do illegal logging.
Der Spiegel, cited by Biziday.ro, explains that numerous animal species live in Romania's forests and that illegal deforestation targets even forested areas protected by law. According to Interpol, 30% of globally traded timber comes from illegal sources, and more than half of it is harvested in Romania.
Until 2018, approximately 20 million cubic meters of timber were cut down in Romania each year, all without documentation or authorization. German journalists also say that timber harvested in Romania is exported to various European countries, where it is used to make furniture or other products.
Following private discussions with individuals with information in the field, such as environmental activists, officials from public institutions, and politicians, Der Spiegel and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which participated in the investigation, found that the relevant authorities in Romania - who should be stopping and preventing such illegal practices - are doing nothing other than encouraging and covering up the illegal logging.
Among the public institutions involved in protecting the "timber mafia" is the Ministry of Environment, Der Spiegel writes, based on the testimony of a former member of the illegal deforestation network.
Egger denied all accusations, claiming that its business is within the law and arguing that it no longer has any connection to those under investigation in this case.
Journalists also tracked the actions of officials who apparently adopted a series of laws aimed at combating illegal deforestation. Subsequently, Der Spiegel writes, these laws were replaced by new regulations that leave room for interpretation and may even favor the continuation of illegal practices in this field.
(Photo source: Vladimir Zlotnik | Dreamstime.com)