A collage showing piles of processed planks discovered at the Central Agriculture Research Institute (CARI). The DayLight/Rebazar D. Forte

By Rebazar D. Forte

SUAKOKO, Bong County – Authorities have taken no actions against a gang of illegal timber traffickers whose network was exposed in a DayLight investigation nearly two months ago. 

The investigation discovered the network ringleaders were two Chinese Chaolong Zhong and Guoping Zhang, a Turkish Mehmet Onder Erem, and a Liberian Terrence Collins.

The illegal traffickers transformed an agriculture research yard into an underground sawmill

The gang purchased timber from Lofa, Nimba and vendors in Suakoko, Bong County, processed them at the Central Agriculture Research Institute (CARI) and smuggled the wood via containers, the investigation found. Thousands of timber were abandoned at several locations in a compound at CARI, published in the investigation.

CARI promised to probe the matter, while the Forestry Development Authority is required to investigate and prosecute the alleged suspects. However, there have been no known investigations, and timber remains in the same position.

Timber can be found everywhere in a yard occupied by China Aid, the Chinese state-owned international development agency
A large pile of processed timber bound for smuggling

In April, CARI’s Officer in Charge Dr. James Dolo said, “I can guarantee you that we are going to get on it by next month (May).” Dolo did not return repeated calls and a text message on Wednesday.

The FDA did not immediately respond to queries for comment on its failure to act.

Smuggling timber and running an underground sawmill breaks the National Forestry Reform Law. Under the law, the regulator should report the “economic sabotage” to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. 

Timber at CARI
Boxlike timber at CARI

Moreover, forestry’s Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products mandates the FDA to confiscate stolen timber and seek a court’s permission to auction them after several public notices.   

The timber traffickers operated in China Turkey Liberia Industries (CTL industries), degrading a compound meant for agricultural research. The US$6 million project was part of Beijing’s efforts to promote agricultural technology in Africa under China Aid, Beijing’s agency for international development.

The timber traffickers boosted at least 33 staffers, more than tripling China Aid.

Timber kept on a basketball court at CARI
Authorities have done nothing to confiscate and auction thousands of timber uncovered at CARI
The illegal timber traffickers overshadowed agricultural works at CARI

This story was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Lbiera (CoFEJ).

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