Sao Paulo (AFP) - Brazilian police said Thursday they had made eight arrests in raids to smash a gang considered the worst perpetrators of deforestation in the Amazon region.
"Eight arrests have been made so far. Police are searching for a further six (suspects) considered to be on the run," a police spokesman in the Amazonian state of Para told AFP.
The gang would invade public land in northern Para state, burn down forest, divided the land into parcels and sell them, raking in millions of dollars in the process, according to federal police who moved in on the gang Wednesday.
According to the Brazilian Environmental Institute, the group has carried out environmental crimes valued at $230 million, making them "the greatest destroyers of the Brazilian Amazon currently active."
Para authorities say the state has suffered some 15,500 hectares (38,300 acres) of deforestation, with the state prosecutor's office estimating that the area where the gang was operating accounts for about 10 percent of the total.
The institute said Wednesday the gang members should be charged with invading public land, environmental crimes, forgery, criminal association and money laundering.
Police say they have also issued warrants for further arrests in the states of Sao Paulo, Parana and Mato Grosso.
If convicted, the suspects face more than 50 years in prison, as could firms or individuals who did business with them.
Deforestation in Brazil hit a peak of 27,000 square kilometers (10,425 square miles) in 2004 but fell in 2010 to a low of 4,571 square kilometers (1,765 square miles).
Last year, the government said deforestation in the northern Amazonia region had reached 5,843 square kilometers (2,256 square miles), a 28 percent rise over the previous year.