Belarusian timber continues to enter Lithuania, EU – probe

  • 2024-04-02
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS - Belarusian timber is still entering Lithuania and other EU countries in circumvention of the existing Western sanctions against Belarus, investigators say. According to a study carried out by the Belarusian Investigative Center in cooperation with the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, official timber exports from Kazakhstan to Poland alone increased fivefold last year, from 14 million to almost 68 million euros.

"We can see that more than 120 million euros worth of timber is entering the European Union through Poland (from all third countries - BNS). Some of it enters Lithuania. The reason for this is that timber enters Poland, is checked at the border, and then goes on to Lithuania via the territory of the European Union where there are no controls. (...) Despite blocking the import of suspicious timber and by implementing the sanctions more effectively, Lithuania itself still receives such timber through the back door," Stanislau Ivashkevich, head of the Belarusian Investigative Center, told Lithuania's public radio LRT on Tuesday.

The investigators admit, however, that timber exports from Belarus to the EU have dropped significantly, from more than 1 billion euros before the sanctions were put in place.

Belarusian timber is being shipped "via Kazakhstan", and in fact comes from Belarus with forged documents, as evidenced by documents analyzed by the investigators, Ivashkevich said.

"A timber hauler from Belarus told us directly over the phone that the timber came from Belarus, not Kazakhstan. The shipper from Kazakhstan assured us that he knew this (Belarusian - BNS) company, that they had communicated and signed a memorandum, but then the company disappeared and the business failed. We can imagine that all this company needed was a contrahent from Kazakhstan to be able to stick fake stamps everywhere," Ivashkevich said.

In his words, new ways of circumventing the sanctions have also emerged as there is no longer a need to register companies exempt from VAT, "now all you have to do is to draw up documents and it works at the Polish border". 

"Kazakhstan doesn't have a lot of forest. It's a big country but its forest cover only 4 percent of its territory. Kazakhstan imports its own timber, and the 4-5 percent of forests they have are steppe trees, half of which are not very suitable for industrial woodworking," Ivaskevich explained. 

The investigation comes a year after a similar investigation in December 2022 found that Belarusian timber enters the EU via Kyrgyzstan. 

"When we found out that Belarusian timber could be supplied to the EU as coming from Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania blocked imports of timber from Kyrgyzstan. That is where the good news ended. We continue to see strong growth of timber movement to the European Union from Kazakhstan," Ivashkevich said.