Senior officials with Paraguay’s Environment Ministry are helping cover up illegal deforestation by the country’s cattle industry, according to damning new testimony by current and former ministry employees. A landlocked country in the heart of South America, Paraguay has experienced some of the highest rates of deforestation anywhere in the world. Over the last three decades, forests covering more than one-tenth of the country’s landmass have been cleared, driven largely by a drive to create more cattle pasture. Last month, London-based NGO Earthsight reported that major European automakers, including Jaguar Land Rover and BMW, were using leather linked to illegal deforestation in Paraguay. Paraguayan law requires ranchers to submit an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to the Environment Ministry in order to obtain a permit to clear forested land prior to felling any trees. However, the reality in many cases is that such applications are made long after the land in question has been cleared, according to whistleblowers who spoke with Earthsight. In 2011, Karen Colman joined the Environment Ministry’s Biodiversity Department, where her job was to appraise the EIAs submitted by businesses wishing to clear forests on their land. Shortly after Colman was hired, conservation NGO Guyra Paraguay released software enabling Colman and her colleagues to monitor deforestation in real-time. Checking the EIAs that passed across Colman’s desk against the software revealed that many of them were fraudulent. “We found that lots of these properties were already cleared of forest,” Colman told Earthsight. “They were illegal deforestations. The landowners were…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer