Belgian authorities announced that they have temporarily blocked timber from Gabon in the Port of Antwerp, due to concerns of illegality. The importer is now under investigation for suspected violations of the European Timber Regulation, which prohibits the import of illegal wood into the European market. Source: Timberbiz
The timber has been identified as padouk, a highly valuable precious tropical wood found in the Congo Basin rainforest, and was exported to Belgium by Chinese company Wan Chuan Timber Sarl (WCTS), destined for Belgium company Compagnie du Bois Anvers.
WCTS has been the subject of investigations, arrests and fines related to forest crimes.
“This looks like one of the most blatant violations of the EUTR we have seen to date given the evidence we uncovered in our investigation,” EIA’s Director of Forest Campaigns, Lisa Handy said.
“There couldn’t be a more clear case of known and persistent illegalities over many years that importers should have acted upon, and authorities should stop and apply strong enforcement measures.”
EIA undercover investigators found that WCTS has a reputation as one of the most brazen forest offenders among timber enterprises in the Congo Basin; this has been well known for years.
The Deputy Director General of WCTS was arrested by Gabonese authorities in 2017 during an investigation into the company’s illegal logging practices, and fined approximately $750,000.
“According to what WCTS’ manager told our undercover investigators, WCTS has exported a shipment of wood to Europe every two months for a number of years, with the port of Antwerp being a primary destination,” Ms Handy said.
“Every WCTS shipment contains illegalities as the company’s problematic business model relies upon corruption, money laundering, tax evasion, and overexploitation of tropical forests.”
Compagnie du Bois Anvers, the importer of this shipment said they would review their business with WCTS following the announcement of the investigation by Belgian Authorities.
The Port of Antwerp has long been considered a hub for illegal timber but to date authorities have been reluctant to sanction importers and traders when illegalities were detected.
All EU countries have committed to the fight against illegal logging. As Europe’s top importer of tropical wood after the UK and joining France as the EU’s leading importers of timber from Gabon, Belgium is uniquely positioned to lead on ensuring that the EUTR is enforced so that only legally sourced timber can enter Europe.