Poland allows sanctioned timber from Belarus to enter the EU with fake documents—investigation

Belarusian timber under sanctions is being imported into the EU through Poland using forged documents stating that the products are coming from Kazakhstan. Polish customs officials say they do not have the physical capacity to verify the authenticity of all customs declarations.

This is stated in a joint investigation by the Belarusian Investigative Center, the Schemes project of the Ukrainian edition of Radio Liberty, and Gazeta Wyborcza.

How Kazakhstan became a forestry powerhouse for Poland

The investigators found that after the imposition of sanctions on wood from Belarus, imports of wood from Kazakhstan to the EU increased significantly. According to Eurostat, Kazakhstan imported wood products worth €14 million in 2022, and this figure increased almost fivefold to €68 million in 2023.

At the same time, before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Kazakh timber was almost never imported to the EU; forests make up only 5% of the country’s territory. This prompted journalists to check whether Belarus, a formerly large exporter of timber, was circumventing sanctions.

Kazakhstan’s timber imports into the European Union spiked. According to the documents, the country supplies wood and wood products, as well as charcoal. Prior to the adoption of sanctions on Belarusian timber, Kazakhstan hardly dealt with such supplies at all. Belarus, on the other hand, annually exports wood worth about one billion euros.

Analysis of documents on wood industry products from various sources allowed journalists to confirm what border guards of the Union countries neighboring Belarus did not manage to find. The country’s producers have found a way to evade sanctions by transporting their goods under the guise of production from Central Asian countries.

Deals between Kazakhstani company Nurr-electro and Polish PLRBL

The journalists analyzed one of the contracts between the Kazakhstani company Nurr-electro and the Polish PLRBL for the supply of pine palisade worth almost a million euros. The contract is dated October 20, 2022, with delivery in early 2023.

Nurr-electro was not aware of the contract, and the seals and signatures on the documents were most likely forged.

“It turned out that the signatures and stamps on the document of the Kazakhstani Nurr-electro were forged and, as noted by two independent graphic design experts, were applied to the documents using a photo editor”, the journalists concluded.

In addition, the lawyer of the Kazakh company Nurr-electro, Arman Tuliyevich, commented to journalists that “there were no financial transactions under such an agreement, let alone goods,” and “we do not have such a seal.”

A representative of the Belarusian shipping company Gallardo admitted that the goods were from Belarus: “We did not bring it from Kazakhstan; we brought it from Belarus; we were loaded there,” the article says.

At the same time, the sole owner of the Polish company that bought PLRBL, Oleg Yanovich, refused to answer journalists’ questions.

Investigators, with the help of market sources, found out that the timber was shipped from the warehouse of a Belarusian company owned by the aforementioned Oleg Yanovich.

The Belarusian company Gallardo, responsible for transporting the timber under this contract, confirmed to journalists that they indeed shipped the goods from Belarus. The company’s representative also said that a similar scheme applies to another company, SO RBL, whose sole owner, Belarusian Oleg Yanovich, is also the chairman of the board of the aforementioned Polish PLRBL.

Will Polish authorities investigate “Kazakhstani wood case”?

The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in response to a request from journalists, stated that the issue of circumventing sanctions is not within their competence. The Polish Customs Service stated that it does not have the physical capacity to check all customs declarations.

“The Ministry of the Interior of Poland responded that an investigation had begun based on the facts stated in the request, but the agency refrained from further comment,” the article says.

Currently, it is impossible to estimate how much of the allegedly transported wood from Kazakhstan is actually Belarusian and imported into the EU in violation of sanctions. The Ministry of Finance of Poland informed the authors of the investigation that it had started an audit.

The EU imposed sanctions on Belarusian timber in 2022

So, despite the fact that, officially, imports of wood from virtually deforested Kazakhstan to the European Union have increased significantly, this investigation has shown that not all of this wood is Kazakh; some of it is from Belarus. We don’t yet know how important this share is, though.

Obtaining and reviewing every customs declaration for Kazakh timber is required in order to find out more. Furthermore, it emerged that complex strategies are not necessary to transport certified timber from Belarus to Poland. To become proficient with Photoshop at an amateur level is sufficient.

After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the European Union imposed restrictions on the import of certain goods from Belarus, a country that the Russian army used as a springboard for its offensive against Ukraine. In March 2022, the EU imposed sanctions on Belarusian timber, much of which had traditionally been supplied to Europe.

Detecting and investigating sanctions violations, punishing the perpetrators, and closing the loopholes to circumvent the embargo are key tasks for the Polish and European authorities to ensure the effectiveness of sanctions and the necessary economic pressure on Russia. After all, assisting Russia in circumventing sanctions means helping Putin’s war and killing Ukrainians.

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