Top: A drone shot of Kpelle Village, one of the communities affected by Akewa’s operations in the Gola Konneh Community Forest. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue
By Emmanuel Sherman
MONROVIA – In 2019, Akewa Group of companies, a Nigerian firm operating in Margibi and Grand Bassa County at the time, forged another company’s document to acquire a new logging contract. The Liberia Revenue Authority investigated and found Akewa guilty of forgery. However, it remained unclear what punishment it took against the company.
Now, it has emerged Akewa paid a US$1,000 fine for falsifying a tax clearance of Tiger Quarry, a mining firm, according to the receipt of the payment. The DayLight had requested the document in a follow-up to an investigation report it published last year.
“The LRA professional ethics division (PED) conducted a full-scale investigation into the matter. The PED… recommended that Akewa Group of Companies pays the legitimate fine of US$1,000 in consonance with the Liberia Revenue Law,” said Kaihenneh Sengbeh, LRA’s head of communications. Akewa made the payment on April 16, roughly one month after the scandal. The receipt categorizes the payment under “fraudulent clearance” penalty.
Akewa had presented the fake document to acquire the Gola Konneh Community Forest, a 49,179-hectare of forestland in the Gola Konneh District of Grand Cape Mount County.
The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) approved Akewa’s bid, breaking Liberian laws, including the Regulation on Bidder Qualifications. It bars a company or its affiliate who has been convicted or penalized in the last five years over forgery, bribery and other morality-related offenses.
FDA Managing Director Mike Doryen wrongly justified the agency’s decision in an interview with The DayLight mid-last year. “We prevented Akewa from doing further business until they could provide [their] tax clearance. They rectified it and they paid a fine and that’s how we resumed business with them,” Doryen said at the time.
Liberian laws require harsh punishments for forgery. Under the National Forestry Reform Law, a person faces a 12-month prison term for the offense or a US$10,000 fine, or both. That person faces up to five years in prison under the Penal Code for lying under oath.
Akewa is one of the forestry’s most delinquent companies. In 2012, Akewa participated in the Private Use Permit (PUP) Scandal. The FDA awarded an estimated 2.5 million hectares of forestlands to fraudulent logging companies in forestry’s biggest postwar scandal. It had received a contract meant for only Liberians three years earlier.
Akewa is currently in a settlement with Beyan Poye Community Forest of Margibi County for the cancellation of its contract with locals. Three Nigerians co-owned the company: Abigail Funke Odebunmi (60 percent) Kenneth Amazeika (20 percent) and Timothy Odebunmi (20 percent).
This story was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists (CoFEJ).