A group of Mexican businesspeople benefit from the uncontrolled import of timber from the Peruvian Amazon. Between 2013 and 2016 several Peruvian companies used the Yacu Kallpa cargo ship to transport 65,262 cubic meters of timber of dubious origin across the Altantic to Mexico.
Ten Mexican companies received 81% of the total (53,194 cubic meters). As Ojo-Publico.com and Connectas have reported in previous investigations, much of the timber that entered Mexican territory through the port of Tampico on the Gulf of Mexico in the country’s north near the US border, was illegal in origin.
How is this possible? Our investigation reveals the way in which inefficient controls have allowed Mexican companies to import timber by focusing on pest detection rather than certificates of origin and species.
The logs of Yacu Kallpa exemplify these weaknesses. The results of Operation Amazon in 2014 and 2015 show that one of the shipments carried by this vessel from Peru to the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the United States was 90% illegal in origin.
Inspections undertaken by the Supervisory Agency for Forest and Wildlife Resources (OSINFOR) concluded that the traded timber failed to comply with forestry legislation. According to the results of public information requests made to the port authority of Tampico, the Yacu Kallpa carried timber sold by Peruvian companies to 30 Mexican companies.
The two principal suppliers for these shipments were Inversiones WCA, and Inversiones La Oroza, the latter currently suspended in the US for having shipped illegally sourced timber. But, who are the main buyers in Mexico of the timber extracted from the Peruvian Amazon?
In this investigation we have identified the 10 most important import companies: CG Universal Wood, CG Grupo Forestal, Triplay y Aglomerados Tany, Maderas La Laguna, Maderería Sierra Verde, Sud American Lumber, Grupo Tenerife, Triplay y Maderas de Mayoreo, Maderas Torres, and Grey Forestal. They are located in Mexico City, and the states of Mexico, Hidalgo, Aguascalientes, and Monterrey.
The Peruvian company with the greatest exports of timber to Mexico over recent years is Inversiones La Oroza, shrouded in controversy because of fines by the United States Government for selling timber of illegal origin. This measure, contained in the free trade agreement between the US and Peru, was used for the first time because, according to the US trade authority, the company had failed to comply with laws on timber harvest and trade.
According to the documents to which we had access, Inversiones La Oroza sold Mexican companies a total of 27,358 cubic meters, equivalent to 42% of all the timber that entered through Tampico between the 2013 and 2016.
The mexican customers
Peruvian timber imports to Mexico declined in 2016 when the operations of the Yacu Kallpa ceased. The Mexican buyers include companies such as Maderas La Laguna and Sud American Lumber, which are members of the National Chamber of Wood Industry, and the CG Maderas and Zebra groups, which are members of the National Association of Importers and Exporters of Forest Products (IMEXFOR).
Located in western city a Guadalajara, CG Universal Wood was the best customer for the goods transported by the Yacu Kallpa. This company purchased 12,043 cubic meters from La Oroza, according to information provided by port of Tampico authorities. A company forming part of the CG Maderas Group, it is dedicated to the sale of a variety of products including tension wood (such as tornillo and MDF--a composite with wood fibers), and playwood made of ash, pine, cedar, walnut, and mahogany. CG Grupo Forestal S.A. de C.V. was the second largest purchaser, importing 11,433 cubic meters from Peru.
CG Forest Group S.A de C.V and CG Universal Wood S.A de C.V both belong to the Zebra Group, led by José Ernesto Ceballos Gallardo, a businessman who maintains a low public profile but is well known among the local business elite. In the United States the group was investigated in 2016 for importing illegally sourced timber. Ceballos was also one of the main buyers of the timber transported by the Yacu Kallpa. Despite a seizure order from the Peruvian prosecutor's office, together with other businessmen, Ceballos Gallardo used irregular means to recover the investment through the Office of the Attorney General.
Ceballos Gallardo also headed Global Plywood and Lumber Inc., a company accused in 2016 of importing illegal timber from Peru.
According to OSINFOR, another Mexican company, Maderas La Laguna, also imported planks transported in 2015 on the Yacu Kallpa, with purchases from La Oroza totaling 4,475 cubic meters. The company currently imports products from Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Guatemala, Uruguay, the United States and China. Its catalog contains a list of species including oak, pine, cedar, and mahogany.
In addition to supplying the timber product markets of Guadalajara and the state of Mexico, the Yacu Kallpa also transported illegally sourced timber to Hidalgo. The Peruvian company Inversiones WCA sent 3,826 cubic meters to the Sierra Verde Logging Company.
Sud American Lumber, managed by Eduardo Guiulfo, president of the Peru Mexico Chamber of Commerce, is another buyer of Peruvian timber.
Guiulfo played an important role in the release of timber of illegal origin that had been seized following an international operation led by Interpol and the global customs network.
As director of Sud American Lumber, Guiulfo was able to ensure that an amendment to the 016 standard, which refers to the phytosanitary aspect of pest control in Mexico, did not include the obligation for importers to check goods prior to shipment and for 45 days thereafter. This resulted in logging companies gaining time and importing their timber planks more quickly.
Guiulfo presents his company on its website as Maderas Finas Sud American Lumber, a Mexico City based company with forest concessions in Peru and expertise in importing tropical timber. This company bought 3,224 cubic meters from suppliers such as Inversiones WCA, Industrial Maderera Zapote, and San Marino Industria y Comercio.
Mahogany and cedar are among the main products of Guiulfo’s company. The website reads: “The daily increase of internal demand for tropical timber for different uses is a reality, even more so in the case of tropical timber from the Amazon rainforest, and specifically from the Peruvian Amazon, which is highly valued on the world market and the reason most of our products come from there.” Sud American Lumber was founded in 1990 in Mexico City and since that time has been importing timber into Mexico.
High-risk timber in Mexico
In 2015 the Yacu Kallpa cargo ship made four trips from Iquitos and passed through the port of Tampico. Its load of 10,493 cubic meters was the highest sent that year.
The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) identified the conditions under which Peru and Mexico trade timber that is high risk timber or on the "red list". The center’s study Continuous improvement of illegal practices in the forestry sector of Peru in 2017 singles out Mexico as the country that has received the most high-risk timber over recent years, It is followed by China, Australia, the Dominican Republic, United States, and France.
The seizures of timber from the Yacu Kallpa between 2015 and 2016 are examples of how the apparatus of Mexican government control handles imports. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in its report presented in February 2018 entitled El momento de la verdad (The Moment of Truth), shows that 91% of the timber transported by the ship was of illegal origin: “Despite of the seizure of the contents of its shipment in September, the Yacu Kallpa cargo ship returned to Peru and was again loaded to leave from Iquitos in late November with timber for the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Houston. But this time the Yacu Kallpa did not arrive in Houston. In fact, it was abandoned in Mexico by its shipping company.”
Image: Ojo-Publico.com /Connectas
Environmental experts and civil society have insisted on the urgent need for Mexican authorities to check the origin of imported timber like that which arrived over several years on the cargo ship Yacu Kallpa.
Both Eduardo Guiulfo and Ceballos Gallardo were interviewed for another report that forms part of this series. At that time, they argued that all the timber from their Peruvians partners was bought in good faith. They explained that, as had been the case in other instances, everything was in order according to the official documents that accompanied the goods.