RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Federal police staged a massive crackdown on illegal logging, arresting 48 environmental officials, including a ranking official in one Amazon state.
Hundreds of federal agents on Thursday began dismantling the corruption ring in the federal environmental protection agency, Ibama, accused of allowing the illegal destruction of some 43,000 hectares (118,608 acres) of Amazon rainforest over the past two years _ much of it Indian reservations and national parks.
Police said the gang was responsible for illegally logging 1.9 million cubic meters (67.09 million cubic feet) of wood, worth an estimated 890 million reals (US$370 million, euro302.58 million). The wood was sold both within Brazil and exported abroad, police said.
“This is a very important moment because our government has broken up this high level of corruption,” said Sen. Serys Slhessarenko of Mato Grosso state,
The crackdown comes just weeks after the government said the Amazon rainforest was disappearing at an alarming rate. It shrank by 26,130 square kilometers (10,088 square miles) in the 12-month period ending last August. Almost half that destruction occurred in the Mato Grosso state
Among those arrested was Hugo Jose Scheuer Werle, Ibama’s top official Mato Grosso state, who allegedly accepted money from loggers in exchange for documents declaring the wood was legally removed from the rainforest. He stands accused of profiting 426,000 reals (US $177,000, euro144,749) during the two years he headed the agency.
Environmentalists blamed the spike in deforestation on the state’s Gov. Blairo Maggi, who is one of the world’s largest soybean producers, and has aggressively defended agricultural development in the state.
“The federal government has done its part now it’s up to Blairo Maggi to do his part on the state level,” said Slhessarenko.
The senator said that she believed the high deforestation rate in her state was driven by market forces seeking to cut down the jungle to grow soybeans and that pressure fostered the corruption within Ibama.
According to Brazilian law, landowners in the Amazon must retain 80 percent of the forest on their plots.
Police also arrested 32 businessmen connected to logging companies and were looking for 15 more.
The crackdown came after a nine-month investigation into corruption at Ibama in Mato Grosso.
Michael Astor, Associated Press