Two Northland environmental groups have lodged a complaint with the Auditor-General calling for an urgent inquiry into what they say is government agencies turning a blind eye to illegal swamp kauri exports.
The complaint alleges that the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Customs are taking little or no action to stop the export of unprocessed kauri logs, planks and slabs, which is banned under the Forests Act 1949.
However, MPI says it is committed to enforcing the rules around swamp kauri exports and follows up any reports of illegal exports.
The complaint was lodged by the Northland Environmental Protection Society and the Far North branch of Forest and Bird on May 28 and made public last week.
It states that huge quantities of swamp kauri are being mined, stockpiled and exported, and that Government agencies' failure to enforce the law is threatening wetlands and native species.
The trade also means Northland, one of poorest regions in country, is missing out on jobs and income because swamp kauri is being processed overseas in countries such as Poland, the US and China.
The groups say they have repeatedly provided MPI and Customs with evidence of illegal exports but to their knowledge no action has been taken.
"We are left with the sense that MPI are either complicit in unlawful activity or totally inept at performing their statutory duties," the complaint's authors state.
The fact that the exports were not being picked up at the border suggested Customs was similarly implicated.
Evidence included online advertisements from overseas firms offering kauri logs that could not be exported legally. One company even documents the export of huge kauri logs on its website.
Fiona Furrell, chair of the Northland Environmental Protection Society, said a full-scale, independent inquiry was needed.
"We have irrefutable proof of the product [swamp kauri] offshore. It's getting there somehow. How that's happening is something MPI needs to answer," she said.
MPI forestry and land management director Aoife Martin said the Ministry was committed to enforcing the rules around swamp kauri exports and making sure exporters understood them.
"MPI will and does follow up on information from the public that suggests the rules are not being followed. This includes investigating numerous claims by the Northland Environmental Protection Society of illegal activities."
None of the recent allegations were new to MPI, Ms Martin said. In the specific cases raised by the society, MPI had "clear and robust" information that the exports were legal and that the Ministry's processes were working.
"The rules around what can and can't be exported have several layers to them and this appears to have lead to some public misunderstanding."
The actual extraction of swamp kauri, and its effect on the environment, was overseen by the Northland Regional Council, not MPI, she said.
A spokesman for the Office of the Auditor-General confirmed the complaint had been received. The office was looking into it.