SAO PAULO - Brazilian authorities said Tuesday they had arrested the boss of a gang blamed for 20 per cent of the deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in recent years.
Ezequiel Antonio Castanha was detained at the weekend in the northern state of Para, the culmination of a six-month police operation that had already netted eight others, and prosecutors called him the Amazon's single biggest deforester.
The gang illegally seized land, clear-cut it and sold it for high prices to cattle grazers, according to prosecutors, who said the group caused damage estimated at $230 million (S$311 million).
"The dismantling of this gang contributes significantly to controling deforestation in the region," said Luciano Evaristo, director of Brazilian Institute of Environment (IBAMA), which was involved in snaring the criminal enterprise.
Castanha, who faces more than 40 years in prison if found guilty, is accused of illegal deforestation, conspiracy and money laundering or use of false documents.
In November, the government said deforestation in Brazil's Amazon basin had dropped by 18 per cent over a year.
Deforestation from August 2013 to July 2014 totaled 4,848 square kilometers (1,870 square miles), the second-lowest figure on record, the government said at the time.