Exclusive-U.S. aims to sanction Brazil deforesters, adding bite to
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[November 23, 2022]
By Gabriel Stargardter and Brad Haynes
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The United States is
looking to crack down on environmental criminals behind surging
deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, using penalties such as Magnitsky
sanctions to tackle climate change more aggressively, U.S. sources and
officials told Reuters.
The plan represents a major shift in Washington's strategy to combat
global warming, adding the bite of direct sanctions to its toolkit of
tax incentives, diplomatic nudges and complex, slow-moving multilateral
Deforestation in Brazil hit a 15-year high under outgoing President Jair
Bolsonaro, who rolled back environmental protections and pushed for more
mining and commercial farming in the Amazon, a crucial buffer against
Leftist President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will take office on
Jan. 1 and has already pledged to end deforestation at the COP27 climate
summit in Egypt last week. In conversations with U.S. officials, Lula
and his allies have stressed his focus on tackling climate change.
Yet there are still question marks about how he views the plan, which is
in its early stages. Lula believes Washington helped Brazilian
prosecutors jail him on graft charges and has often chafed at the long
arm of U.S. law enforcement.
Magnitsky sanctions aim to punish those accused of corruption or
enabling human rights abuses. They would freeze any U.S. assets and bar
all Americans and U.S. companies from dealing with sanctioned
individuals or entities.
The U.S. Treasury Department, which is responsible for Magnitsky
sanctions, declined to comment. Neither Bolsonaro's office nor Brazil's
Justice Ministry responded to requests for comment. Lula's transition
team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The U.S. plan began taking shape in June, at the Summit of the Americas
in Los Angeles, when the United States and Brazil announced a joint task
force to fight illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, a U.S.
source working on the plan said.
Among the working group's goals is "disincentivizing the use of the
international financial system in association with illegal activities
with forest products," according to a statement from the U.S. State
Department at the time.
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An aerial view shows a deforested plot
of the Amazon rainforest in Manaus, Amazonas State, Brazil July 8,
2022. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly/File Photo
In more precise terms, a separate U.S. official with knowledge of
the plan told Reuters, Washington is looking to penalize major
deforesters, and perpetrators of other environmental crimes such as
illegal gold mining.
U.S. officials in Brazil and the United States have already begun
the process of identifying and investigating specific targets, the
source said, with potential punishments ranging from visa blacklists
to Global Magnitsky sanctions.
It is unclear when or if the United States could sanction specific
targets, as the investigations can take a while.
Targeting environmental criminals with Global Magnitsky sanctions is
unusual but not unprecedented.
In 2019, the Treasury designated Try Pheap, a Cambodian tycoon and
ruling party official, for building a large-scale illegal logging
consortium in collusion with officials.
The Treasury Department is working on the plan with the State
Department's Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs and the Bureau
of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs,
the source said.
In a visit to Brazil in August, Brian Nelson, the Treasury's under
secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said June's
Summit of the Americas meeting resulted in subsequent conversations
with Brazil on how "to manage the challenge that we are all facing
around climate change."
"Certainly, environmental crimes are a significant feature of that
in our perspective," Nelson said in a meeting with reporters,
mentioning "the deforestation of the Amazon."
During his August visit, Nelson also met with civil society groups
in Sao Paulo to discuss environmental crime "and its nexus to both
organized crime and public corruption," according to a Treasury
statement at the time.
(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter and Brad Haynes; Editing by
Christian Plumb and Lisa Shumaker)
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