Police in Brazil are targeting the country’s environment minister as well as the head of the Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) as part of a major investigation into a wood-smuggling ring.
On Wednesday, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes waived the anonymity of the two officials to announce they were being investigated, along with nine others from Ibama.
The judge has stripped the president of Ibama, Eduardo Bim, and a number of his colleagues of their responsibilities, while Environment Minister Ricardo Salles has retained his cabinet position, according to Reuters.
De Moraes also granted police access to Salles’ bank and tax records and issued 35 search warrants as part of the inquiry.
Deforestation in the Amazon hit a 12-year high last year. Environmental activists have called for Salles’ removal from office over his efforts to ease nature safeguards and enforcement during his tenure.
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Some 160 federal police officers are reportedly involved in searching properties in the Federal District and the states of Para and Sao Paulo, according to Brazilian newspaper O Globo.
Those under investigation were allegedly involved in some 8,000 shipments of illegally exported timber between 2019 and 2020, some of which were seized in the US and Europe.
The allegations are being investigated as part of ‘Operation Akuanduba’, which is looking at the potential involvement of civil servants and businessmen in corruption and smuggling within the timber industry.
Police launched the operation in January after receiving a tip-off from authorities abroad about how and where Brazilian wood was being exported.
It takes its name from the Brazilian deity “Akuanduba” from the state of Para, who according to folklore, would sound his flute to bring about order in the world.
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