Peruvian governor accused of playing a leading role in timber trafficking ring involving Chinese logging companies – in a case that provides further evidence of growing Chinese players’ involvement in the market illegal timber in Peru.
Luis Hidalgo Okimura, Governor of the Department of Madre de Dios, is under investigation for allegedly accepting bribes to provide logging concessions and transport permits to logging companies, Dionisio Quicaño, prosecutor for the anti-corruption unit of the attorney general’s office, told Peruvian media Punto Final. Among the beneficiaries of the concessions are five companies owned by Chinese businessman Xiadong Ji Wu, who is also under investigation after prosecutors raided one of his properties and discovered planks made from it. of a protected tree species, according to Punto Final.
A logging company linked to Ji Wu has benefited from the transfer of a 42,000-hectare concession to a protected area of Madre de Dios in the Amazon region, according to the report.
In a series of audio recordings released by Punto Final, Ji Wu and his associates were reportedly heard discussing bribes to forestry officials. Hidalgo can also be heard discussing a meeting with Ji Wu, nicknamed “Fidel”. One of Ji Wu’s companies reportedly paid for the governor’s trip to China in 2019.
Hidalgo admitted to Punto Final irregularities in the concessions given to Ji Wu, but denied having played a role. He claimed that all of this was done under the responsibility of the former chief forestry officer in the area, who was detained in connection with the investigation.
SEE ALSO: Yacu Kallpa: Illegal timber and impunity in Peru
The investigation into the illegal timber network has accelerated in recent months. The first operations took place on August 25, when authorities arrested 17 people and seized 21 properties in Cusco and Puerto Maldonado. A search at Hidalgo then happened October 12. About a week later, prosecutors requested that Hidalgo and nine others be placed preventive dentention.
Nearly 30 officials – including government officials, police officers, customs officers and even prosecutors involved in environmental crime investigations – are under investigation, according to Mongabay.
InSight Crime Analysis
If investigators prove an agreement between Hidalgo and Ji Wu, it would prove that some fraudulent Chinese companies are directly bribing Peruvian officials to facilitate the illegal timber trade.
China has become a major driver of the illegal timber trade in Peru. According to data collected by the Center for International Environmental Law, more than 70 percent of exported timber from Peru to China via the port of Callao port was on the “red list”. This means that the exporting company faces legal action or has been sanctioned for crimes related to illegal timber.
Chinese companies linked to illegal logging even processed illegal timber at deforestation sites using mobile sawmills, according to Rolando Navarro, the former director of the Peruvian Agency for the Monitoring of Forest Resources (Organismo de Supervisión de los Recursos Forestales – OSINFOR).
This allows them to move timber in the Amazon region with “much more ease and versatility”, Navarro told InSight Crime.
SEE ALSO: Organized crime and the environment in Latin America: a fatal encounter
InSight Crime has extensively documented how corruption routinely greases the wheels of Peru’s illicit timber trade, which includes the dozens of loggers, transporters and middlemen who harvest and move timber, the export companies that launder illegal timber and corrupt officials who receive bribes to facilitate schemes.
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