Sep 212016
 

Rise Project Romania, a member of the regional network Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), made a heartbreaking documentary about the large-scale illegal logging in the Carpathians and the thrive of forest mafia that enriches the Austrian timber company Holzindustrie Schweighofer.

illegal logging

Illegal and irresponsible logging in Romanian mountains (pic: caon.ro)

Clear Cut Crimes is a 42-minute movie that has been filmed over a period of one year in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains, mainly in the northern Romanian district of Maramures and across the border, in Ukraine.

The OCCRP documentary stars a couple of key characters: The kingpin – Austrian billionaire Gerald Schweighofer; The Gansters – local Romanian crooks; The White Collars – corrupt Romanian/Ukrainian politicians and government professionals; The Cossack – a Ukrainian paramilitary group and The Whistleblower – Rise Project Romanian investigative reporters.

Rise Project: Once a forest, now like a graveyard of stumps
“What was once a beautiful forest, it emerges now like a desolate “cemetery” that sweeps across western Ukraine and northern Romania. Europe’s largest virgin forests and its protected wildlife seem to be doomed,” a source is quoted as saying.

Video: Clear Cut Crimes – Schweighofer slammed for illegal logging
The investigation tracks down the money, goes through all phases of the financial machineries, analyses the anatomy of these hundreds of millions of euro businesses and finally pinpoints the systemic corruption behind the environmental disaster.

The criminal network is organized as a cartel which is made up of people and corporations. Everyone seems to get a piece of the spoil but the main beneficiary remains the Austrian group Holzindustrie Schweighofer which is the center of gravity for the cartel.

Effects of deforestation: striking difference between left and right sides (pic: cunostelumea.ro)

Effects of deforestation: striking difference between left and right sides (picture credits: cunoastelumea.ro)

The investigative report proves that this company violates the laws by harvesting, purchasing and processing more wood than it can handle legally in Romania. What’s left behind are just deserted mountains and well organized criminal gangs whose sole purpose is to illegally cut down ancient trees, make forest restitution fraud, embezzle funds and weaken state’s institutions. The whole scheme appears to work on two levels: white-collar crime and violent underworld. The former involves influential corrupt politicians, the latter – “intervention or demolition teams”. And they are a win-win.

Using poor people as a cover-up, they run literally their bulldozers over everything and everyone stands in the way, while local police oversees the whole show.

Schweighofer’s influence stretches also in Ukraine, where the logs are usually sneaked across the border to feed company’s timber factories from Romania. A handful of combatants trained in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict is now trying to oppose the illegal logging by force. They are dubbed “The Cossack battalion” and their main goal is to check suspect trucks or trains and set-up ambushes in the forest. But that’s not enough because the cartel is powerful enough to use the back door and bribe government officials who are sometimes so cheap that they are willing to sell hectares of forest just in exchange to a paid family vacation to Vienna.

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