The Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), the Federal Police, the Federal Prosecution Service, and the Federal Revenue Service launched a joint operation Thursday (Jun. 30) to dismantle the largest illegal logging and land grabbing criminal organization in the Brazilian Amazon. According to the Federal Revenue Service, the gang's turnover between 2012 and 2015 was more than $310 million.
Dubbed “Flying Rivers”, the operation carried out raids in Altamira and Novo Progresso, Pará, as well as São Paulo, Santa Catarina, Mato Grosso, and Mato Grosso do Sul states, engaging 95 federal police officers, 15 Federal Revenue Service auditors, and 32 IBAMA officials, assisted by two aircraft.
The gang has been under investigation for two years. The main target of the operation was Vilela Filho, a rancher suspected of logging over 29,000 hectares worth of forest between 2012 and 2014. He is wanted by police, and faces charges of land grabbing, criminal conspiracy, illegal logging, and profit concealment. According to investigators, Vilela set up shell companies and used his family to launder illegal money. In addition to the criminal charges, he will face fines of $37 million for environmental crimes.
Luciano Evaristo, head of Environmental Protection at IBAMA, said the criminal group invested heavily in technology and operated in an organized way as a business. The organization operates with a number smaller divisions: the actual logging operations; purchase and sale of illegally logged areas; a financial division, and a family operation to conceal the illegal profit. In addition to logging on grabbed land, the gang leased the land for farming.
According to Evaristo, the aiding and abetting by local Kayapo indigenous people was crucial for the operation. In March 2014, 40 Kayapo leaders reported deforestation in and around the Menkragnoti indigenous territory in Pará state. IBAMA did not find the logged areas on satellite imagery. But when they searched the location, however, the officers found a new method of deforestation that logged the forest from beneath the tree tops and left a vegetation cover that “eludes” the satellites.
“The police found that among gang members were geoprocessing experts with satellite knowledge who would review data from the National Space Research Institute (INPE) and plan their logging activities,” Evaristo said.
Translated by Mayra Borges
Fonte: Agência Brasil.