On Wednesday Romanian prosecutors executed 23 search warrants across the country related to a criminal investigation into the Austrian timber giant Holzindustrie Schweighofer. The police raids, which included the company’s headquarters in Sebes, represent a new stage in the investigation into organized criminal activity that began three years ago. The alleged organized criminal group includes Holzindustrie Schweighofer, several public institutions, and other companies suspected of engaging in “misappropriation of public auctions, tax evasion, unfair competition, illegal logging and other offenses,” according to a press release from the Romanian Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT).
“Today’s police action shows that even a company as powerful as Schweighofer is not above law,” says David Gehl, Eurasia Program Coordinator for the Environmental Investigation Agency. “Illegal logging in Europe’s last great forests must have real and meaningful penalties.”
Holzindustrie Schweighofer, the largest timber processor in Romania, has been active in the country since 2002, over a period when the Romanian government estimated that a large portion of all logging was illegal. An undercover video released by EIA in 2015 exposed a top Austrian Schweighofer official eager to purchase illegal wood, and a subsequent EIA report documented the vast amount of illegalities incentivized by Schweighofer’s activity.
A report issued by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in 2016 also found clear and compelling evidence of illegal activity, resulting in Schweighofer losing its FSC certification. In a statement today, the company reiterated that it has instituted a new tracking system, but EIA has shown that a major portion of their supply comes from third party log yards, which mask the origin of the timber and leave them at high risk for receiving illegally logged wood despite this new system.
Romania harbors Europe’s largest remaining virgin forests, which have become increasingly threatened by aggressive logging, including in National Parks. On May 26th, Romanian activists protested the destruction of Domogled National Park, Romania’s largest protected area, which has been among the most affected by destructive logging in the past ten years.
“The forests of Romania are a treasure that should benefit all Romanians today as well as future generations,” says Gehl. “Schweighofer is finally starting to face the consequences for a decade of stealing the forests from the Romanian people.”