Companies based in Portugal, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Poland have been importing timber from Industrie Forestière du Congo (IFCO) – a logging company which Global Witness accuses of flouting forest laws in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Together, the ten companies placed more than 1,400m3 of IFCO’s so-called high-risk timber on the EU market, with a value of approximately €2 million, in the space of five months during 2018.

IFCO is a recently created entity which has inherited logging operations previously belonging to Cotrefor.

Under the European Timber regulations (EUTR), companies must be able to show they have taken clear steps to reduce the risk that timber imported to the EU has been illegally harvested. Failure to do so can result in high penalties.

“It has been over six years since the EU Timber Regulation came into force, and this is yet another case of illegal or high-risk timber coming into EU ports, seemingly unchecked. Illegal logging is a serious contributor to climate change, and weak enforcement risks undermining the EU’s efforts to combat it”, said Colin Robertson of Global Witness.

This follows a detailed investigation published last summer by Global Witness, which revealed systemic illegal logging by a major European company in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while Norway and France are on the brink of funding expansion of the country’s industrial logging sector.

Global Witness said that a two-year investigation revealed that European company Norsudtimber was the biggest single owner of logging concessions covering over 40,000 km2 of rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Portugal, China, Vietnam and France are also all said to be recipients of Norsudtimber’s timber trading.

The majority of timber exports to Europe went to either Portugal or France.

Almost 60 percent of the timber exported is said to come from endangered or vulnerable tree species.

Global Witness also said in a statement that the report “Total Systems Failure” shows how a global web of secrecy is facilitating this illegal international trade whilst protecting Portuguese nationals, said to be at the head of the company, from scrutiny.

Back in 2009, the Portuguese branch of the environmental association WWF (World Wildlife Fund) called on the Government to implement legislation against the importation of wood that is of illegal origin after it published a report that highlights this country as one of the world’s biggest importers of tropical woods.

Portugal was identified as being the Democratic Republic of Congo’s most important client in terms of wood importation, as well as being the sixth biggest importer of tropical woods from Brazil, a target of environmentalists concerned about depleting rainforests.

According to WWF, the Iberian Peninsula ranks number one in Europe and the second region in the world regarding the importation of tropical woods.

Its report highlighted the non-existence in Portugal of national legislation to control this type of business.

“What we intend is that a clear difference is made between wood that we don’t know from where it comes, and therefore to which there is an associated risk of it being from illegally felled trees, and wood that comes from controlled sources”, said Luís Silva, head of WWF in Portugal.

He added that “there is very poor control of where wood comes from”, and therefore “associated risks are very high”.

“We are very confident that a high percentage of wood entering Europe is illegal”, he warned.

Portugal has also faced previous criticism from Global Witness, which a decade ago had already said the country was only behind China and France in terms of imports of timber from the DRC.