The Brazillian Supreme Court in Brazil on May 19 ordered an investigation on Environment Minister Ricardo Salles and other officials from his ministry on suspicion of a timber trafficking scheme.
According to the ruling by Justice Alexandre de Morae, federal police had evidence that Salles and other environmental officials were involved in an “extremely serious scheme to facilitate the trafficking of rainforest products” to the United States and Europe.
The court also suspended 10 officials from their posts at the environment ministry and its administrative arm, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA), according to a statement by the federal police.
IBAMA Chief Eduardo Bim and Salles’ Special Adviser Leopoldo Penteado Butkiewicz were among the suspended officials, but not Salles.
Around 160 federal police officers raided the offices of the environment ministry in the states of Sao Paulo and Para, as well as Salles’ home in Sao Paulo, with 35 search-and-seizure warrants issued by the court as part of the investigation into the alleged timber exports.
The court also granted police access to Salles’ bank accounts to search for evidence of illicit income.
Salles denied any wrongdoing when asked by reporters about the raids, saying “these alleged acts never happened.”
Salles added that the investigation would show that the environment ministry and IBAMA “have always sought to act according to the rules.”
Salles has been one of the most controversial figures in President Jair Bolsonaro’s government as he has overseen a 12-year surge of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest since 2019.
Activists have also accused Salles of dismantling environmental protection programs.
According to federal police, they launched the investigation last January after obtaining information “from foreign authorities suggesting the possible misconduct of Brazilian civil servants in the export of timber.”