Clear Cut Crimes

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The once-lush woods have been turned into a graveyard of stumps. Once extending from northern Romania to western Ukraine, the last virgin forests in Europe were mercilessly cut down.

Clear Cut Crimes is a 42-minute documentary film shot over a period of one year in the Carpathian Mountains. Our investigation follows the money to expose the crime of illegal deforestation, an activity that risks environmental disaster and is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The major Austrian timber firm Holzindustrie Schweighofer is positioned as a main beneficiary of the practice, having built a wood-processing capacity in Romania that exceeds that country’s legal wood-harvesting quota.

Schweighofer feeds off a destructive system devised by criminal groups involved in illegal deforestation. These groups work in cahoots with corrupt politicians who assist the thugs in expanding their unlawful logging businesses. They use poor people as fronts for their companies and will run a bulldozer over anyone or anything standing in their way. In the meantime, law enforcement sits on the sidelines as the violence unfolds.

In Ukraine, the network that supplies Schweighofer sends timber harvested in the war-torn country to Romanian processing plants. The network is opposed in Ukraine by paramilitaries who fight against Russia's expansion. The so-called Cossack Battalion blocks logging trucks on the roads, halts trains loaded with illegal wood and sets up ambushes in the forest.

But it hasn’t been enough. The logging cartel is strong and supported by corrupt officials in Kyiv.

Clear Cut Crimes is a work by journalists from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and RISE Project.