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IN THE KARACHAY-CHERKESS REPUBLIC ARE TRYING TO CONCEAL THE MASS ILLEGAL LOGGING

21 may 2020
For more than six months, WWF-Russia his trying to notify the local authorities about facts of illegal logging in Karachay-Cherkessia. The Prosecutor's Office of the Urupskiy district did not hurry to look for the suspected ones. But the concealment has been failed. Criminal processes were initiated only after the intervention of the Prosecutor's Office of the Republic. However, even in these cases, the damages of logging are underestimated substantially.

BACKSTORY:

We have already written that in July, 2019 WWF-Russia volunteers found more than a hundred felled healthy trees in two forest areas of the Urupskiy district of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic. Officially, the sanitation harvest was appointed to attempt a cover-up of logging healthy wood.. 

PROBLEM:

For 10 months, the Urupskiy district prosecutors have been turning the blind eye to the fact that at two sites of Tochenovskiy district forestry carried out mass felling of healthy trees under the guise of sanitary measures, which were authorized by the Department of Forests of the Republic. In the criminal case materials, the data do not correspond to reality.

Field surveillance organized by WWF-Russia showed that more than a hundred healthy trees were logged, but the Prosecutor's Office of the Urupskiy district and the Forest Administration of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic prefer not to recognize this and try to blame unknown "illegal loggers" who cut down only 5 trees and disappeared.

Logging on the first site
(c) WWF-Russia

SEQUENCE OF EVENTS:

July 2019 – WWF-Russia volunteers identify two barbaric loggings of commercial timber  registered as sanitation cutting in the Urupskiy district of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic. Officially, only old wind fallen treesand dead wood were to be cut down there (those trees mostly lying on the ground). However, in fact, freshly cut stumps of healthy trees with special marks were found on the site. This means that the signed treeswere approved by the Department of Forests of the Republic. More than a hundred healthy trees were cut down this way. Then, WWF-Russia sent an appeal to the Department of Forestry in the Southern Federal District.

Why was the appeal not sent to the Department of Forests of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic on a territorial basis?

Experience shows that this authority often tries to hide such violations. The Department of Forestry in the Southern Federal District is a Federal Supervisory body that oversees the performance of its obligations by regional forest management bodies. Therefore, in this case, WWF immediately appealed to the Supervisory Authority.

Logging on the second site
(c) WWF-Russia

August 2019 - the Department of Forestry in the Southern Federal District organized an on-site inspection, which confirmed the fact that healthy trees were felled instead of sick ones on two sites. The Department instructed the Department of Forests of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic to send the inspection materials to the Urupskiy district Prosecutor's Office.

December 2019 - the Urupskiy district Prosecutor's Office sends WWF-Russia an official response stating that disciplinary penalties were imposed based on the results of the Department of Forests’s audit. The District Prosecutor's Office did not initiate any investigations  at this stage.

January 2020 – WWF-Russia sends an appeal to the Prosecutor's Office of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic with a request to check the actions of the Urupskiy District Prosecutor's Office, as well as to identify the reasons why the District Prosecutor's Office did not conduct an investigation.

March 2020 - the Karachay-Cherkess Prosecutor's Office sends WWF-Russia a response stating that 2 criminal cases were initiated on 02/26/2020 under part 1 of article 260 of the criminal code of the Russian Federation. Despite the fact that the violation was immediately confirmed by the Supervisory Authority (the Department of forestry in the southern Federal district), the criminal case was opened only 7 months later!

At this point, it would seem, we can end this story. Criminal cases have been initiated, and the investigation has moved forward. It remains only to catch the guilty. However, that wasn’t the end.

THE MOST INTERESTING:

«The fact is that the official investigation data regarding, for example, the number of identified trees may differ from those available to WWF», - explains Elena Cherkasova, Forest Officer of Russian Caucasus Ecoregional Office WWF-Russia. – «It is the investigation process that determines the official data on the case and also assesses the damages caused, according to the letter of the law. And to clarify this information, we wrote the following letter».

March 2020 – WWF-Russia sent an appeal to the Prosecutor's Office of the Republic to clarify the volume of illegal timber harvested and assess the damages. This appeal  is sent to the Interdistrict Department of Ministry of Internal Affairs "Zelenchukskiy", which reports that according to the protocols, 2 trees were illegally cut down on one site, and 3 trees on the other. We remind you that WWF volunteers found more than a hundred felled trees. Only on one of the sites were found 119 felled trees estimated at least 346 m3 of timber.

April 2020 – WWF-Russia sent a repeated request to the Department of Forestry in the Southern Federal District requesting to conduct a thorough check of the damage calculation.

May 2020 - the Department replied that it sent the correct verification materials to the Department in due time, not the ones that turned out in the end. And it says that it made a request to the Prosecutor's Office, for his part.

IN TOTAL:

The circle closed. It has been 10 months when WWF volunteers discovered illegal logging, but no thorough verification still not carried out.

WWF volunteers: they identified more than a hundred healthy logged trees with marks for removal. All trees are located on the territory of specially protected areas of the forest, and some of them are located in the "Damhurts" Sanctuary. The damage is several million rubles.

Department of Forestry in the Southern Federal District: conducted the on-site investigation, checked and confirmed the substitution of tree felling. The Department claims that it sent all the correct documents to the Forest Administration of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic for further transfer to the Prosecutor's Office.

Department of Forests  of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic: passed the materials to the Prosecutor's Office in such a way that out of more than 100 trees in the criminal case, for some reason, only 5 remained. Although the employees of the Department had to be present at the unscheduled inspection by the Department (since the violation was committed on the territory of their responsibility) and observe the felled trees.

Urupskiy district Prosecutor’s Office: They were not in a hurry to investigate this case. Both the Prosecutor’s Office and the Department of Forestsof the Karachay-Cherkess Republic went to check it only 5 months later, but for some reason, they did not cooperate with the  Department, which previously conducted an audit on the spot and confirmed the violations. Somehow, instead of hundreds of trees, only 5 were found (3 on one site and 2 on another). They initiated criminal proceedings and handed over the materials to the Ministry of Internal Affairs only 7 months after the WWF and the Department's appeal, and then – after the Prosecutor's office of the Republic interfered.

Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic: Sent a response to WWF-Russia about the initiation of 2 criminal cases under article 260 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, without understanding the situation in detail.

- First, despite the statement of WWF-Russia with detailed figures and the results of the audit of the Department of Forestry in the Southern Federal District, 2 and 3 trees still appear in the case file.

- Secondly, unscheduled inspection of the Department of Forestry in the Southern Federal District confirmed the fact of substitution of felling, which usually falls under article 285 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation ‘Abuse of Power’. Such cases should be referred to the Russian Investigative Committee. But this did not happen and this turned out to be illegal tree cutting as such (the investigation of which is the responsibility of the Ministry of Internal Affairs). 

- Third, the Prosecutor's Office of the Republic did not report whether the actions of the district Prosecutor's Office and its results were checked.

WHAT’S NEXT:

WWF insists on a detailed review of the case by the authorized law enforcement agencies (territorial bodies of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Russian Investigative Committee). If there is no objective investigation of our appeal (a detailed calculation of the amount of logging and damage calculation using existing taxes) and the investigation continues to be "delayed", the materials will be sent to the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation.

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