Building upon the initial outcomes of the operation, Costa Rica and Venezuela in particular have increased their efforts in the fight against illegal logging, confiscating 292,000 m3 of wood and wood products - equivalent to 19,500 truckloads - during follow-up investigations and operations. Venezuela accounted for nearly two-thirds of the total, with 188,000 m3 of wood seized in a single month.
Law enforcement agencies in the two countries conducted intelligence gathering to identify locations where illegal logging was occurring, transportation routes and the criminals involved in all phases of the process. Using this intelligence, authorities carried out operations at logging camps, sawmills and transportation corridors.
Project Leaf is a consortium initiative led by INTERPOL, with the United Nations Environment Programme and with the financial support of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. The project supports countries in tackling illegal logging and forestry crime, which undermine attempts to implement national and international forest protection policies and sustainable forestry practices.
"Norway and the global society have invested for years in the conservation of forests to save the earth from the dangerous effects of climate change, protect biodiversity and help people who live in and depend on forests," said Norway's Minister for International Development, Heikki Eidsvoll Holmås.
"We cannot accept organized crime destroying our achievements for their personal profits. I therefore welcome the results achieved through the INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme's capacity building initiatives and law enforcement operations," he added.
The first phase of Operation Lead, held under the auspices of INTERPOL's Environmental Crime Programme and its Project Leaf, was conducted in 12 Latin American countries in late 2012. As INTERPOL's first international operation targeting large-scale illegal logging and forest crime, it resulted in nearly 200 arrests and seizures of more than 50,000 m3 of wood, estimated at around USD 8 million.
"The ongoing law enforcement operations in Latin America demonstrate the profound and long-lasting impact of INTERPOL's environmental crime initiatives. We continue to support countries, and the international community, in their fight against illegal logging and forest crime," said David Higgins, Head of INTERPOL's Environmental Crime Programme.
"It is important to continue to evolve our enforcement efforts and build on the successes of previous operations to begin to target international criminal operations responsible for large-scale illegal logging," concluded Mr Higgins.
In addition to the ongoing law enforcement operations, Venezuelan authorities have been leading replanting efforts in affected areas, reforesting some 8,000 hectares. They have also implemented educational programmes to inform the public about the dangers associated with illegal logging.
Operation Lead participating countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.