The links between environmental crimes and illicit financial activities have become increasingly clear. Investigations conducted by Brazil’s Federal Public Ministry (Ministério Público Federal – MPF) and the Federal Police (Polícia Federal – PF), such as the emblematic Operation Archimedes, whose first phase started in Amazonas in December 2017, have revealed well organised criminal networks which operate in increasingly complex ways. Such criminal schemes involve, for example, the corruption of public servants of environmental agencies and fraud in environmental licensing to facilitate the trade of illegally extracted forest products and minerals. There is also strong evidence of corruption and asset laundering related to export of gold from the Amazon, particularly the gold extracted illegally (garimpo ilegal).
As a result, civil society organizations have carried out studies and projects to develop possible responses aimed at disrupting the criminal networks perpetrating environmental crimes and associated financial crimes, including projects to promote greater transparency and traceability, stronger social participation, and broader access to justice and information on environmental issues.
Against this background, in December 2021, Plataforma CIPÓ published the strategic report “Environmental crimes as organized crime: illegal gold mining in the Amazon “, authored by Felipe Schaeffer Neves and Maiara Folly.
The study is structured in five parts. The first section provides an overview of the gold supply chain in Brazil, highlighting the expansion of illegal mining in the Brazilian Amazon in recent years and the lack of mechanisms for tracking and controlling the sale of gold extracted illegally.
The second section addresses the network of crimes associated with illegal mining in Brazil, based on emblematic cases of criminal organization formation, fraud, corruption and money and asset laundering, whose actors involved range from political figures to drug trafficking groups.
The third section illustrates the negative impacts of illegal mining, particularly for indigenous peoples, with a focus on the adverse health effects caused by the use of mercury. The report then highlights emerging initiatives aimed at ensuring greater transparency and control of the gold supply chain in Brazil.
The final section presents recommendations for the improvement of the existing normative framework and public policies aimed at dismantling the criminal networks associated with the gold illegally extracted in the Amazon region.