Johan Eliasch Fights Back Millionaire Fine for Amazon Deforestation

(Photo: Head.com and Getty Images.) Gethal, a company now owned by Swedish businessman Johan Eliasch (who has been called "a millionaire with a conscience" and acts as environmental consultant for the British Prime Minister), is facing a 230 million dollar bill from the Brazilian government for illegally-cutting down thousands of trees from the Amazon and lacking certification for lands it supposedly owns.

According to the National Institute for Environment and Natural Resources, the bill was issued after investigations that began in 2005, although Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper also says the process was accelerated by a special request from new environmental minister Carlos Minc. Eliasch interests in the country were being investigated more intensely after he claimed that foreigners could buy the entire Amazon for 50 billion dollars, informed The Telegraph.

The reaction from the company was to deny the accusation, saying it's a political move and claiming the charges belong to Gethal's previous owners. According to a source quoted by AFP, a source close to Eliasch has said Gethal "is prepared to take the matter to court."The charges from the Brazilian government

The communication sent by the National Institute for Environmental and Natural Resources (Ibama) says Gethal has accumulated 150 thousand hectares in the forest; but that by 1999, it only had authorization to handle 90 thousand hectares.

According to Ibama, in 2005, Marcelo Vizotto, then partner of the company, signed an agreement committing to regularize Gethal's situation in a one year term. Two years later, that wasn't achieved and that led the institute to issue nine infractions against the company.

Those reach 274 million Reals (167 million dollars) for cutting down about 700 thousand cubic meters of wood; 107 million Reals (about 65 million dollars) for exploring 21 thousand hectares of forest without proper authorization from the corresponding environmental organism; and another 5400 Reals (3300 dollars) for not paying a certain tax. The company had another nine processes for infractions that were issued in 2002, that add up another 4 million Reals (2.4 million dollars).

Even though some media spoke about a 220 million dollar fine, the charges informed by Ibama sum a total of 380 million Reals, which is about 230 million dollars.

According to the institute, the agreement Gethal had signed stated that it had to present documents to prove the ownership of the lands it managed or at least instruments that showed their sale, rent or commodatum. But the company didn't, so Ibama cannot establish the property of the land and has embargoed the area for forest management.

The institute informed that the fine applied to Gethal is the highest ever for an environmental infraction.

Gethal's answer to the accusation

A source close to Eliasch told AFP that, "the [illegal logging] allegations are false, fabricated and unsubstantiated," as the logging stopped once the Swedish bought the firm. "Gethal has been fined because the company didn't comply with its management plan, which had been decided by the previous owners, which planned for the logging in the rainforest," the source said.

"Ibama's decision is absurd. Gethal has not violated any law, no harm has been caused; on the contrary. The real issue is politically motivated: it's about the foreign ownership of the rainforest," said the source quoted by AFP.

A few articles reminded this whole issue came in a time the Brazilian government is trying to build its credibility about environmental matters after deforestation in the Amazon accelerated in the past months.

Johan Eliasch's reputation

The news about the fine against Eliasch came as a shock by some, as the Swedish businessman has built himself a reputation as a green advocate by founding and directing the organization Cool Earth, and acting as environmental consultant for the British Prime Minister.

In an article published by The Sunday Times two years ago, journalist Maurice Chittenden wrote: "Eliasch is part of a growing trend towards 'green colonialism'. Rich people with chequebooks instead of pith helmets, charities and trusts, who are buying vast swathes of the Third World or 'renting' the timber rights to stop trees being cut down. It is a breakaway from the methods that have characterised the international conservation movement for the past 50 years."

In that article, the journalist also quoted Eliasch to have said: "In theory you can perhaps buy the Amazon for $50 billion. It would be a very quick payback because a hurricane like Katrina will cost them a similar amount in payouts." A line that supposedly caused discomfort in the Brazilian government.

Sources:
::Original article: Gethal received more than 380 million Reals fine for not complying with Conduct Adjustment Term (Ibama, in Portuguese)
::Brazil: Multi-million dollar fine over deforestation (Clarin newspaper, in Spanish)
::Ibama fines Swedish millionaire with 450 million Reais in the Amazon (Folha de Sao Paulo, in Portuguese)
::National Institute for Colonization and Land Reform Analyzes Foreign-owned Lands in the Amazon
::Johan Eliasch, Gordon Brown consultant, fined for illegal Amazon logging (Telegraph)
::Firm rejects Amazon logging fine: source (AFP)

Read the latest about Brazil and the Amazon:
::Marina Silva resigns to Brazilian Environmental Ministry
::Amazon: Brazil Considers Extending Permits to Enter the Jungle
::Brazilian Banks, Forbidden to Give Loans to Illegal Loggers
::Uncontacted Amazon Tribe Is Photographed
::Amazon Deforestation Speeds Up Once More
And read about our Jessica Root's visit to the Amazon:
::The Amazon Jungle and a New York City Girl

Tags: Brazil | Deforestation