Romania has 65 percent of the virgin forests in existence in Europe. Only 20 percent of those forests are included in national parks and protected by law.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis signed a law on Monday that defends illegal logging and any action which endangers the country’s water, forests and lands. The new law categorizes deforestation of surface areas greater than one hectare as a national security threat.
Over the past 20 years, Romania has lost 80 million cubic meters of wood worth an estimated € 5 billion (US$ 5.4 billion) to illegal logging.
A study by Greenpeace said Romanian forests were disappearing by three hectares per hour, with numerous cases of illegal logging registered daily between 2000-2011.
Last year, OCCRP partner RISE Romania revealed how Schweighofer, an Austrian-based timber processing firm, bought massive volumes of timber from controversial Romanian logging firms between 2013 and 2015. RISE Romania reported that some of the processing plants owned by the Austrian corporation who bought the logs were connected to former Schweighofer directors, local politicians, or businessmen with long criminal records. Moreover, Schweighofer allegedly offered loans to many of the local logging firms who took part in illegal deforestation to expand their activities.
The Environment Investigation Agency (EIA) also obtained hidden camera footage it alleged showed Schweighofer officials agreeing to the possible purchase of illegal timber and promising bonuses to the seller. The most important wood supplier to Schweighofer was state-owned Romsilva, whose president Adam Craciunescu was indicted for corruption, according to RISE Romania’s investigation. Schweighofer denied any wrongdoing, saying it respects Romanian law and it will launch an internal investigation into the allegations.
Romania’s forests were state-owned before 1990, but by the end of 2010, the state owned only 66.3 percent. Public ownership has since gone down further to 52.2 percent.