Belarus evading EU sanctions by importing timber to Poland with false documents, finds investigation

Belarus is circumventing sanctions by exporting timber into the EU through Poland using false documentation suggesting it is from Kazakhstan – a country with hardly any forests – an international journalistic investigation has found.

Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, imports to the EU of timber supposedly from Kazakhstan have boomed, rising in 325-fold in value, from around €387,000 in 2021 to nearly €126 million in 2023.

Imports to Poland, at almost €68 million, accounted for over half that latter figure.

However, an investigation by Radio Free Europe, Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza and the Belarusian Investigative Center has found that at least part of these imports from Kazakhstan are actually Belarusian timber that has been falsely documented to evade EU sanctions in place since June 2022.

Documents obtained by the journalists from sources within the industry indicate that Belarus-based companies are falsifying shipping records for timber. One such contract was for almost €1 million between the Kazakh company Nurr-electro and Polish firm PLRBL.

However, after the journalists asked both companies for details of this agreement, Nurr-electro denied having made one of the shipments documented in the records.

“There were no financial transactions under such an agreement,” its lawyer said, quoted by Radio Free Europe. “This is definitely a forgery. We don’t have such a seal.”

Two graphic design experts consulted by the journalists both confirmed that seals and signatures of the Kazakh company and finance ministry had been added to the document using a photo editor.

The Polish Economic Chamber of the Timber Industry has also noticed a significant increase in timber imports from Kazakhstan over the past two years, despite the country – only 1.7% of which is forested, compared to 46% of Belarus – not having a history of production.

The chamber’s director, Piotr Garstka, told Gazeta Wyborcza that Kazakhstan had never previously produced plywood but within two years became the main supplier of the material.

He added that the organisation’s members had noted tenders being awarded for the supply of lumber in which prices were “abnormally low, even below the cost of the raw material”. They have asked Poland’s state assets ministry to “take appropriate remedial measures”.

“The circumvention of sanctions is ongoing and their enforcement is not 100% effective,” said Garstka.

Poland’s customs service also admitted to the Belarusian Investigative Center that it does not have the capacity to look into all customs declarations and invoices.

Source: notesfrompoland