Swedish tycoon defends interest in Amazon

Johan Eliasch, a London-based Swedish tycoon who is in legal hot water with Brazil over logging on land he owns in the Amazon forest, on Wednesday defended his environmental credentials in a statement published by the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.

In the article, Eliasch, the 46-year-old boss of the Head sports company and an environmental advisor to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, did not address a 275-million-dollar fine Brazil has levied against one of his companies for allegedly illegally cutting down 230,000 trees and lacking certification for Amazon land it owns.

A source close to him in London told AFP on Saturday that the allegations are false and related to decisions made by the company, Gethal, before Eliasch bought it in 2005.

Instead, Eliasch concentrated on another charge Brazilian authorities have reportedly made against him for allegedly telling businessmen in 2006 and 2007 that “‘only’ 50 billion dollars would be needed to acquire all the forest.”

“I never said that!” Eliasch wrote in his newspaper comment published in Portuguese.

He asserted that what he said was that “the amount spent by insurance companies to compensate the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — around 75 billion dollars — was greater than the hypothetical value of the Amazon forest.”

Eliasch, who is worth an estimated 790 million dollars and is co-founder of a British-based environmental organization called Cool Earth, wrote that he agreed with Brazilian government’s handling of Amazon forest preservation.

“The Brazilian Amazon forest belongs to Brazil,” he wrote, echoing a statement by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has been angered by foreign criticism suggesting the Amazon was too important to mankind to be left to his government to protect.

Eliasch backed a Brazilian proposal that it be paid by other countries because of the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the vast Amazon forest, sometimes described as the “lungs of the Earth.”

“The rest of the world has to be prepared to compensate those nations with tropical forests so this heritage can be protected,” he wrote.

He also supported a push from within the Brazilian government to boost sustainable development in the Amazon, so those living in the region can benefit from the economic boom taking place in the rest of Brazil.

But Eliasch, whose vast holdings in the Amazon have raised concerns in Brazil, also defended his interests, saying his aims were preservation-oriented.

“The protection of the forest is a community model, and as a citizen of the international community, I need to assume my responsibility in this context,” he wrote.