Follow the money to catch illegal loggers-World Bank

Wed Mar 21, 2012 12:01am GMT

* Financial tools target "big fish" in deforestation

* Same techniques as used against drugs, human trafficking

By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON, March 20 (Reuters) - The same follow-the-money approach used to catch drug kingpins and human traffickers could be used to track down the big operators behind large-scale illegal logging, the World Bank said on Tuesday.

Around the world, illegal loggers cut down an area of forest the size of a football field every two seconds, generating criminal proceeds of between $10 billion and $15 billion annually, the Bank said in a report,

"You have a crime, it's generating proceeds, and one way to enlarge your toolkit is to follow the money," said Jean Pesne, manager of the Bank's Financial Market Integrity unit, which released the report, "Justice for Forests."

Deforestation of protected land may be done to harvest old-growth trees and exotic woods or to clear land for large-scale agriculture or cattle grazing. But it can lead to soil erosion and cuts down on trees' ability to lock up climate-warming carbon dioxide.

The report, which does not differentiate between the reasons for tree-cutting, advocates the use of financial tools more familiar in the pursuit of organized criminals to combat illegal deforestation.

The full range of crime-fighting tools should be used to catch illegal logging organizations, rather than the low-level operators who cut down the trees. These tools include electronic surveillance, undercover operations and witness protection, according to the report.   Continued...

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