Akuanduba is a deity from the mythology of the Arara indigenous people who lives in the state of Pará, in the north of Brazil. According to legend, if someone committed an excess, going against the rules, the deity played a small flute to restore order.
The Brazilian Federal Police borrowed the name of this legend to baptize the investigative operation launched in May this year against the former Minister of the Environment Ricardo Salles, the former president of the Brazilian Institute of the Environment (Ibama) Eduardo Bim and other public officials and businessmen of the timber industry suspected of committing irregularities in the export of wood.RELATED
Now, six months after Operation Akuanduba, the Public Agency has had access to new information on how much wood was exported and which countries and companies received the product for 15 months. The investigation indicates that wood exports were facilitated by the Ibama order (7036900/2020) that made a Normative Instruction obsolete (15/2011). This rule established that wood exports required a specific authorization from Ibama before leaving the country. It also provided for stricter controls such as sample cargo inspection.
Alexandre de Moraes, a member of the Supreme Federal Court of Brazil, ordered the suspension in May of the order that made the previous regulations obsolete. In the decision, Moraes said that the investigations pointed to “the existence of a plot to facilitate the smuggling of forest products.” For Moraes, there is suspicion of the participation of the former Minister of the Environment Ricardo Salles and the former president of Ibama Eduardo Bim in the alleged plot.
Among those investigated are also officials appointed by Salles in Ibama, as well as companies in the timber sector, especially those linked to the timber companies of the Paraná association Association of Wood Exporting Industries of the State of Pará (Aimex), in the north of Brazil, one of the states most affected by illegal logging in the country.
According to an investigation by the Public Agency, only the logging companies associated with Aimex have exported 174,000 tons of wood since the start of the Jair Bolsonaro government – 57% of these exports occurred during the validity of the Ibama measure.
The investigation confirms that, between February 2020 and May 2021, the companies linked to Aimex sold at least 12,500 tons of wood from forest species considered in danger of extinction by the Brazilian Forest Service (SFB).
The data were obtained in collaboration with the Latin American Center for Journalistic Investigation (CLIP) from the panjiva platform, a database of commercial information and market intelligence maintained by the US company S&P Global.
The volume of wood sold, according to data from the platform, was higher in the 15 months of validity of the Ibama decree (from February 2020 to May 2021) than between 2016 and 2019, when the companies sold 11,000 tons of wood from species considered in danger of extinction.
The species found, despite being at risk according to the Brazilian Forest Service (SFB) classification, can be legally traded. To extract wood legally in Brazil, it is necessary to have a forest management plan approved by the state secretariat for the Environment.
In the database consulted, it is not possible to know to which management plans the wood sold is linked. Following the launch of Operation Akuanduba, Aimex published a note stating that the wood is legal.
France, the United States, Japan, Germany and Belgium were the countries that registered the highest number of shipments of wood considered threatened by the FSB while the Ibama decree was in force.
The wood most shipped during the period was angelim-pedra (Hymenolobium excelsum), the itaúba (Mezilaurus itauba), the garapeira (Apuleia leiocarpa) and cherry (Amburana acreana). These woods, considered as vulnerable species by the SFB, are used mainly in civil and naval construction, due to their resistance and durability.
However, timber exports did not occur homogeneously among the different logging companies, as derived from the analysis of the data. Six companies were responsible for 78.5% of the shipments of wood considered in danger during the validity of the order.
Among the three logging companies that exported the most in this period are Ebata Produtos Florestais Ltda and Tradelink, implicated in the Federal Police investigation. Both share a common past: fines for environmental infractions, lawsuits in the socio-environmental area in federal and state courts, and socio-environmental conflicts with riverside communities in the Amazon.
Regarding Operation Akuanduba, Tradelink said that all its operations “were legal and followed the IBAMA regulations and the interpretation adopted by the environmental agency regarding the relevant legislation.” The exporter stated that “this is an investigation and none of the allegations has been proven”.
Ebata Produtos Florestais Ltda and Aimex have declined to comment. In recent statements, Aimex criticized the judicial decisions and the work of the Federal Police in the operation. In a statement made public, the timber association claims to defend “the interests of its members and the forestry sector in a firm but absolutely honest, legitimate and democratic manner.”