Romania Admits to Flaws in Timber Tracing System

Published: 15 April 2024

Romania Clone PresserRomanian Environment Ministry's press conference. (Photo: Andrei Ciurcanu)

By Andrei Ciurcanu

Romania’s Environment Ministry has admitted to “imperfections” in its electronic timber tracing system, confirming the same pattern of abuses that an  OCCRP investigation revealed last week.

The tracking system, known as SUMAL, collects details on all of the lumber cut in Romania and requires truck drivers to submit photos of every haul they transport.

But a recent investigation by OCCRP found some drivers have been submitting falsified photos, potentially hiding illegally-logged wood from a country that is home to some of Europe’s most important old-growth forests.

Romania’s Environment Minister Mircea Fechet announced in a press conference on April 8 that the state had formed  a partnership with Google to help identify such fake images, which have been proliferating on a system considered to be the most sophisticated of its kind in Europe.

“SUMAL, although it is the most innovative traceability system in the world at this time, also has imperfections and can be further developed. No authority can keep up with the speed with which some try to circumvent it,” said Fechet.

In a pilot test, Google’s Artificial Intelligence platform Vertex AI analyzed all 400,000 timber transports recorded in SUMAL in November 2023 and found that 11,000 out of the total 1.6 million photos uploaded were suspicious, Fechet said.

Many of the flagged images were photos of old photographs of lumber displayed on another phone – similar to what OCCRP’s investigation found.

Almost half of the images were blurry, and showed  the pixelation of the other  phone’s screen, or the visible margins of the device that was photographed.

The minister said that such images would be investigated by the police and Forest Guard and if found to be fraudulent, punished with a penal complaint for computer fraud.

OCCRP’s investigation, which found similar types of falsified images, focused on one Romanian transport company owned by the Austrian wood panel supplier Kronospan.

Kronospan, one of the world’s largest producers of wood-based panels,operates two processing plants in Romania that export wooden panels across the EU, and counts IKEA among its clients.

Reporters created a database of photos uploaded by the local transport company Kronospan owns, Silva Logistics, and found that between April 2022 and November 2023, at least 244 out of 7,000 trips had been logged in the system with seemingly falsified photographs.

On more than 200 other trips, Silva Logistics trucks submitted no pictures of the wood at all, which is also a breach of Romanian law.

Kronospan said it always strove to adhere to the law, but acknowledged some shortcomings in how its drivers had used SUMAL.