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Loggers Illegally Cut Logs for Unlawful Bridge

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Top: Masayaha’s bridge in Gbargbo, River Cess County breaks the FDA’s standards for a log bridge. The Ministry of Public Works disapproved of the construction. Picture credit: An anonymous villager


By Aaron Wesley Geezay


GARGBO VILLAGE, River Cess – Masayaha, a Lebanese-owned company, known for its repeated logging offenses, has harvested about 500 logs in River Cess County, outside of its area of operations.

In November 2021, Masayaha had a 15-year logging contract with the 43,792-hectare Bloquiah Community Forest in Gboe/Ploe Administrative District, Grand Gedeh County.  

One year later, Masayaha entered a verbal logging deal with Gbargbo, a River Cess’ Norbor Clan village about 80 kilometers away from its contract area. Under the deal, villagers would allow the company to harvest the logs and build a temporary bridge over the Cestos River, which would later be transformed into a partial concrete structure.

The log bridge was good news for both parties.

Masayaha needed it to transport logs from Grand Gedeh to Grand Bassa since heavy vehicles were disallowed to use the Timbo River Bridge between Sinoe and River Cess.    

The villagers saw the bridge as an opportunity to connect the Norbor Clan in the Yarnee District to the Kploh Chiefdom in the Central River Cess Administrative District.

“They asked us to allow them to cut 250 pieces of logs to fix the bridge,” Samuel Gbargbo, a resident of Gbargbo Village, told The DayLight. “And because we have been suffering for the road we agreed.”

Masayaha abandoned several logs on this field and other areas in Gbargbo Village it illegally harvested last year. The DayLight/Aaron Geezay

‘The people… fooled us’

Per the agreement, Masayaha paid the community US$1,500 and began harvesting. However, the logs were insufficient to complete the bridge so the parties signed another verbal agreement. This time, Masayaha only paid US$700, with the remaining US$800 yet to be paid, our investigation found. 

And there were other problems. There was no concrete component of the bridge as Masayaha had promised. The bridge had been completed over a year ago, yet the company had failed to construct any concrete pillars. Besides, it abandoned several logs that they felled in Gbargbo’s forest.

This and the debt issue angered the villagers, who threatened to protest.

“The people came and fooled us and made us work for nothing,” said Melvin Wolloh, town chief of Norbor Clan.

Ali Harkous, Masayaha’s CEO and owner, said the Forestry Development Authority permitted it. “We applied to FDA to permit us to get the logs from around the area and they approved and we also approached community and they agreed,” Harkous said. He refused to share a copy with The DayLight or allow this reporter to see it.

A stump of a tree in Gbargbo Village, River Cess County Masayaha illegally harvested last year. The DayLight/Aaron Geezay

Harkous would not speak to the villagers’ claim but budged after persistent inquiry. “Frankly, tell them they should not worry,  we are going to give [them] their money.

“We invested all we have and credited from some financial institutions. We are really into [a] financial problem,” Harkous said.

Harkous was right. The FDA permitted Masayaha to harvest logs for the bridge. However, his company grossly violated the permit’s terms.

The document and other papers, the FDA provided, did not permit Masayaha to harvest logs in River Cess, but rather Sinoe County.  Two letters written by then-Senator Milton Teahjay of Sinoe County and Bloquiah Community Forest, seen by The DayLight, mentioned the Tarjuwon District.

Also, the permit ordered Masayaha to work with the FDA staff in that area to identify targeted trees and calculate the volume logs for the project. That, too, did not happen.

FDA’s record of the Masayaha felling in Gbargbo Village shows that the company felled 200 trees, not 500 the villagers said.  

Then of the 200 logs, 62 were untagged, according to the FDA record. Similarly, the logs on the bridge, on an open field on the riverbank and in the bushes were untagged. Even the tree stumps this reporter photographed were missing obligatory tags.   

The DayLight photographed several untagged logs abandoned by Masayaha in Gbargbo Village, River Cess. The DayLight/Aaron Geezay

This is a violation of the Regulation on Establishing a Chain of Custody System. In forestry, every log must be marked, tagged and entered into the system to ensure its legality. It is crucial to Liberia’s timber-trade agreement with the European Union.

The dates on the harvesting record and the communications are inconsistent, further proof of a dishonest operation. It shows rangers identified targeted trees on November 29, 2022—William V.S. Tubman’s birthday—for the harvesting. However, Masayaha’s request and the FDA’s response were written in December and January, respectively. This reveals that rangers had already counted, and tagged some of the trees before the FDA approved the harvesting.

Roadside logging

It is not the first time Masayaha has harvested logs outside its contract area. In 2022, a DayLight investigation exposed Masayaha’s illegal logging activities outside the Worr Community Forest in Grand Bassa County, where it exploited villagers’ need for roads. The report cited an August 2021 FDA publication in which investigators found evidence Masayaha connived with locals to steal timber. No actions were taken against the company for those activities, despite a protest.

William Pewu, FDA’s technical manager for commercial forestry, said Masayaha would go scot-free for its Gbargbo Village activities. Pewu claims the FDA does not record the logs in LiberTrace, a computer system that verifies the legality of timber.  

“No, those logs are not for sale,” Pewu told The DayLight in an interview last week. “You only enroll logs in LiberTrace when they are for export. Those logs are for [a] bridge construction.”

Pewu’s comments are not backed by facts. The phrase “chain of custody” covers everything from “transport, interim storage, processing, distribution, and export.” In short, it extends from a log’s “source of origin in the forest to [its] end use.”

Furthermore, roadside logging does not derive from any law or regulation. In fact, in 2009, the FDA even fined a company for harvesting a hundred logs along a path outside a concession in Grand Bassa, according to a United Nations report. A 2017 regulation imposes a fine of twice the value of logs harvested outside a contract, a six-month prison term, or both fine and imprisonment upon a conviction. Other penalties include forfeiture of harvesting rights or a logging contract.

Masayaha illegally harvested over 500 logs from the Gbargbo Village in River Cess, 80 kilometers outside a Grand Gedeh forest, where it has a contract. The DayLight/Aaron Geezay

Masayaha’s illegal operation in Gbargbo bears a remarkable resemblance to the one conducted by a company nearly a decade ago. In 2016, an investigation by the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) found that Liberia Hardwood Company (LHC) harvested many logs outside the Bloquiah Community Forest. Strangely, some of the logs were felled in the very Gbargbo Village.   

The FDA admitted at the time that roadside logging was illegal but said the logging would continue while it addressed “gaps” in the regulation. It took no action against LHC, which denied any wrongdoing, and there is still no regulation for roadside logging.

‘Not possible’

The bridge built from the illegal logs is equally tainted. It violates the standards for bridge construction, per the Code of Harvesting Practices. The code requires a log bridge to be built on a high portion of a riverbank so as not to stop or interfere with the water’s flow.  

Masayaha engineers placed the logs directly in the water, stalling its natural course, photographs of the construction show.  

Ministry of Public Works did not authorize the construction, a contravention of the precondition the FDA set for the construction. The Ministry said it had disapproved of the construction.  

“Approval/consent was not provided on the basis that the [width] of the Cestos River was [wider],” Minister Roland Layfette Giddings told The DayLight. By the ministry’s standard, it was not possible to construct a log bridge at the location under consideration.”

That violation has led to consequences. At the start of the rainy season, the Cestos River overflowed its banks, washing many logs away. Masayaha later repaired it. Masayaha has started to use the bridge to transport logs to Buchanan.

But Fishermen, who have fished on the river for generations, now have to lift their canoes over the controversial bridge to access the other side of the river.  


The story was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ).

Barred, Broke Company Abandons Hundreds of Logs in Sinoe

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created by dji camera

Top: Iroko transferred most of the abandoned logs in February this year, one year and four months after they were harvested in the Central Dugbe River Community Forest. The DayLight/Derick Snyder


By Matenneh Keita and Esau J. Farr


KARQUEKPO, Sinoe County – In 2022, Timothy Odebunmi, joined two other Nigerian businessmen to establish Iroko Timber Logging Corporation in July 2021. Odebunmi has 50 percent shares, Samson Odebunmi, his relative, 45 percent, and Akinsiku Arinkan five percent.

The following year, Iroko signed a contract with the Central River Dugbe Community Forest. By October, it began harvesting logs in the 13,193-hectare woodland in Sinoe’s Jaedae District near the Grand Kru border.

Two years on, Iroko has not exported the logs, a violation of the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products.

It is unclear how many logs Iroko has felled. The FDA record shows 523 logs. However, Bartee Togba, the head of Central River Dugbe leadership, puts the number to about 700. Videos posted to Iroko’s Facebook page in July last year show workers hauling logs with an earthmover.

Under the regulation, logs are abandoned when unattended between 15 and 180 working days after felling, depending on their location.  

The DayLight videotaped hundreds of logs on an open field in Dioh’s Town on the Greenville-Karquekpo route. Sources, including residents of that community, said the logs were only transferred there in February this year.

A screenshot of Iroko’s website shows the logs were harvested before or in October, nearly more than three times the legal time frame for a log anywhere to be abandoned.

Togba said some of the logs were still in the forest and wanted to document them. “I’m going to put the forest guards together… to carry them in the forest and record all of [that] information on those abandoned logs,” Togba said in an interview at his house in Karquekpo. He did not return queries on his findings after the interview despite repeated phone conversations.

The FDA has taken no concrete steps to deter Iroko or any other company from abandoning logs, now a sector normal. Between 2020 and 2023, Managing Director Mike Doryen made several pronouncements,  including a public announcement in November last year, but never acted. Recently, current Managing Director Rudolph Merab toured the southeast, highlighting the issue but has done nothing more.

The FDA record shows that the agency approved Iroko’s permit to export 349 logs this May, something Iroko said it was “finalizing” soon. However, in an interview with The DayLight, William Pewu, FDA’s technical manager for community forestry, said the regulator would investigate.

“If Iroko has abandoned logs or woods, we are not aware of that,” Pewu said. “We have to first of all validate whether the information we are getting [is authentic]. We have to do a follow-up.”

Pewu’s assertion of being unaware of Iroko’s abandoned log situation is not backed by facts. The DayLight published an investigation on the issue more than a year ago. The FDA did not return questions the newspaper asked regarding Iroko at the time.

An elevated view of Iroko’s log yard with a solitary earthmover and a makeshift security booth. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

The FDA must investigate a piece of abandoned log information, according to the regulation, and publish its findings. The regulation further mandates the agency to seize and auction said logs with a court warrant, following several public notices. Penalties for the offense include fines and contract forfeiture. 

‘[Overvalued]’

Iroko’s struggles suggest it cannot conduct logging activities in Central River Dugbe.

It claims it owns eight earthmovers and leases nine others, according to one official document. However, it has been seen with only a few equipment in the last three years. An old machine at the log yard and two in Polay Town, one of the eight communities that own the forest.

The document shows Iroko targets 100,000 hectares of forests in the region in 15 years but it has grappled to manage just 13,193 hectares in three.   

Iroko plans to run a centralized log yard near Greenville, from where it would produce about 50,000 cubic meters of logs each harvesting season. Yet, its current log yard is smaller than a football pitch. Reporters did not have to fly a drone high to capture all of the logs, a solitary earthmover and a makeshift security booth last month.

Togba said Iroko’s capacity troubles were glaring. He said the company had been “[overvalued],” accusing the FDA of not assessing Iroko’s financial and logistical capacities.

“The law says before FDA gives the company permit…, they should first of all view their equipment.  They must know the company has an equipment that is up to standard but these things were not done,” Togba said.

Two Iroko machines in Polay Town, Sinoe County in 2023. The DayLight/James Giahyue

“What I suspect in their operation is there is no active equipment. Looking at the poor arrangement based on the equipment that brought all of that mess, the company doesn’t have the financial capability to operate,” Togba added.

Official documents appear to support Togba’s comments. It took Iroko barely two weeks to get prequalified for logging in Liberia. It registered as the company on July 7, 2021, and was prequalified on July 23, 2021, according to its article of incorporation and prequalification certificate.

Iroko’s situation mirrors that of Akewa Group of Companies, another Nigerian firm in which Odebunmi has 20 percent shares. Beginning in 2008, Akewa failed to live up to each one of its four contracts in Grand Bassa, Margibi and Grand Cape Mount. It is locked in an arbitration proceeding with the Margibi community over locals’ forest benefits.

Iroko dismisses indications of its capacity issues. “We are a business entity and we work with positives and challenges of the business environment,” Iroko said in emailed responses to The DayLight’s queries. It would not make specific comments on challenges.

‘Null and void’

The FDA could have prevented the situation had it disapproved of Iroko’s contract, due to Odebunmi’s shares in Akewa. Back in 2019, Akewa was fined US$1,000 forging another company’s tax clearance to acquire a contract in Grand Cape Mount County.

Approving the Iroko-Central-River-Dugbe contract—with Odebunmi as a shareholder—violates the Regulation on Bidder Qualifications. The regulation debars shareholders of companies that commit any acts of public dishonesty for five years. Only three years had passed when the FDA approved Iroko’s contract.

Iroko said Odebunmi was unaware of his shares in Akewa and “has never signed any document to that effect.” It said Odebunmi did not know of Akewa’s tax fraud.

But those statements are not backed by facts. Odebunmi has owned a fifth of Akewa’s shares since 2010, through two amendments, Akewa’s legal documents show. A recent review of the forestry sector by the U.S.-based Forest Trends also captures Odebunmi as an Akewa shareholder.

Speaking on its illegal approval of Iroko’s contract, the FDA said it did not have a list of debarred companies and individuals, and that it needed a court action to enforce debarment. The FDA further said it could not enforce the qualification regulation because Iroko did not bid for Central River Dugbe. Like Iroko’s, the FDA’s assertions are not backed by facts.

Up: A page from Akewa’s article of incorporation shows Timothy Odebunmi as a 20-percent shareholder in the company. Here: A page from Iroko’s legal documents reveals Timothy Odebunmi as a 50-percent shareholder.

Though the qualification regulation mandates the FDA to form a list of debarred persons, other provisions on eligibility are not subject to the list. For instance, the Yes-or-No Prequalification Criteria requires a firm seeking prequalification not to have any shareholders connected to forgery.

The FDA’s claim that it could not apply the regulation because Iroko was not bidding for a contract contradicts its actions. The qualification regulation does not only cover bidding. It also contains requirements for the rights to conduct forestry activities in Liberia.

Moreover, the FDA applied such a provision by warning Iroko against perjury, which has nothing to do with the debarment list.

“Any statement made under oath to the panel that is found to be false renders this certificate null and void,” Iroko’s prequalification certificate reads. The three-year document will expire later this month.  


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

Undercover Investigation Reveals Illegal Logger’s Criminal Acts    

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Top: A poster showing the illegal logging activities by Michael Feika in Totoquelleh, Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/Rebazar Forte


By James Harding Giahyue


TOTOQUELLEH, Gbarpolu County – “If [it is a] container, I give you my price. You buy it from me in the bush,” Michael Feika, an illegal logger, told his new client.

Feika is a broker of kpokolo, squared, compact timber whose trade the government “banned” just over a year ago but has reemerged, with authorities yet to act.

Feika shared several of his past and present operations with Joemue Wortee when they met in Paynesville on March 8. The pictures were equally revealing as Feika’s verbal pitch to Wortee, the assumed client.

“I will bring [the kpokolo] to town. It is only left with you to pay me because I got the document,” Feika said as he tried to convince Wortee of a deal.

“This thing [is] my business from day one.”

In his late 30s and with a Sierra Leonean accent, Feika sent Wortee to his network in Totoquelleh in the Bopolu District of Gbarpolu County.  There, Wortee saw Feika’s setup—production sites, an earthmover, timber and a gang of chainsaw millers and haulers.

But Wortee was no businessman.  He was an undercover reporter whose mission was to uncover Feika’s illegal logging activities. The reporter’s mission set off as evidence of fresh kpokolo activities began in the western countryside.

The DayLight used undercover techniques because it appeared impossible that Feika would submit to an open probe, particularly after our previous report on the return of kpokolo. Also, such investigation in a forest best guaranteed the reporter’s safety.

‘Mikelo’

The DayLight’s undercover reporter under his assumed name traveled to Totoquelleh, some 62 miles north of Monrovia.

Michael Feika, aliased Mikelo, a prolific kpokolo logger, poses near a tree he just felled. Photo credit Michael Feika

When the reporter arrived at the destination, Feika had already informed a member of his network about the assumed businessman’s mission. The undercover reporter did not know this so, he went asking the townspeople for the teenage member named only as Morris.

Just as Feika had said, everyone the reporter asked in Totoquelleh said they knew Feika and his operations. The people call him Mikelo, a play on the words “Michael” and “Kpokolo.”

Feika and Morris live in a mud hut from where the former serves as the ringleader for their wood trafficking network of over 20 operators. At times he hosts Sierra Leonean illegal loggers for months in Totoquelleh. Feika claims that he hails from Margibi County but his Facebook account lists Freetown as his home city. Other Feikas listed as his friends on Facebook also come from Sierra Leone. This means Feika is not even qualified to conduct small-scale logging activities in Liberia, set aside for only Liberians.

The undercover reporter went to Feika’s house in search of Morris. That search took him to the home of Abadulai Fofana, another kpokolo producer in the forest-enveloped community. It was here the reporter met Morris.

Up: Fresh kpokolo Michael Feika harvested in few months ago. Here: Old kpokolo Feika harvested in 2022. The DayLight/Esau Farr

The short, black teenager, who is also a motorcycle taxi driver, then took the undercover reporter on a guided tour of Feika’s kpokolo world.

As they took a footpath leading to a farm, Morris told the undercover reporter that they produced a lot of kpokolo in 2022. Their production has slowed down in the last two years and they only produce when a customer approaches them.

As they walked deeper, the undercover reporter saw some abandoned kpokolo on the floor of the dried, dim wooded area. Morris disclosed that it was one of the many locations where Feika worked.

Morris’ comments corroborated Feika’s account and that of the picture he shared with the reporter in Paynesville. Feika had said that he harvested the wood in 2022 but backed off after the supposed ban.

Feika’s new worksites in the pictures were too far for the reporter to venture even for a client. The reporter and Morris decided to head back to the town.

Nevertheless, the pictures already took the undercover reporter to Feika’s new locations. They show piles of kpokolo in the forest, felled logs waiting to be milled, targeted trees for harvesting and timber at a portable sawmill.  One particular picture showed Feika posing for a picture next to another felled tree.  

Logs cut by Michael Feika. Photo credit: Michael Feika

“The ones standing there, I [cut] one down before I could come to Monrovia,” Feika said back in Paynesville, referring to a gigantic tree. “This one is Iroko the white one,” he added, citing a first-class tree species scientifically known as Milicia excelsa, which kpokolo traffickers prefer.   

‘It is easy’

About a 10-minute into their journey back to Totoquelleh, the reporter and Morris saw a score of 12-inch kpokolo that Fofana, Feika’s competitor, harvested.

Not far, lay five others in the middle of a dirt road close to the K.J. Village.  The kpokolo appeared to have fallen off the vehicle transferring them from the forest. Tire impressions show clearly in the sunbaked mud.  

Fofana had disclosed he kept more kpokolo in their conversation before the undercover reporter met Morris.

“The sizes are 50X50, 40X40 and 30X30,” Fofana said at the time. He meant the timber’s dimensions range from 30 to 50 inches in thickness, up to 25 times the authorized size.

“It was produced last month,” Fofana added. 

“When somebody [has a] contract for me, I can do it. That business is a contract. It can come and we discuss it before we do it.” Fofana’s comments had confirmed Feika’s suspicion that other kpokolo operators in Totoquelleh would try to snatch the assumed businessman.

The leftover of a tree harvested by illegal loggers somewhere in Liberia. Photo credit: Michael Feika

Upon his return to Totoquelleh from his Morris-guided tour, the undercover reporter photographed an excavator parked near a truck in an open field.

“You see that car over there,” Fofana said, pointing to the excavator. “It is the one that can hook [the kpokolo and put them in the container].”

‘Not small money’

Thankfully, the pictures Feika shared with the undercover reporter show the entire container-packaging process. Several pictures show the wood being measured with a tape rule. One shows a crane shoving kpokolo into a container, while another reveals two men sealing it up.

“Some of the containers allow eight, 14, 16 and 20 pieces of wood to go in, depending on the sizes of the wood,” Feika said back in Paynesville. He revealed the kpokolo measuring three inches and four-and-a-half inches were the ones now in demand.

Feika said he had stopped producing larger kpokolo due to the ban but was open to cutting them once he got the right offer. “If you want [them]…, it is not small money you will spend,” he said.  

The prices for a container filled with kpokolo are based on the class of the wood. Prices range from US$7,000 to US$12,000, including transportation to Monrovia, according to Feika. Feika’s favorite first-class species apart from Iroko are Afzelia (Afzelia spp), Ekki (Lophira alata), Lovoa (Lovoa trichilioides) and Niangon ( Heritiera utilis). These species are expensive and produce hardwood used for shipbuilding, railroad ties and outdoor construction.

If a client wants just one container, they must pay Feika at least half of their negotiated amount. If the client wants multiple containers, they pay for at least one container upfront.  However, the client must pay the FDA US1,200 for an annual export permit, US$1,000 for the paper and the balance for paperwork, Feika said. Those figures are the same as the ones on the kpokolo permit the FDA issued before the so-called ban.  

Once the container is filled and sealed, Feika makes phone calls to FDA rangers posted on the Bopolu-Monrovia highway via Klay. Feika would not share the rangers’ contact or say their names.

“When I reach the checkpoint, I will say, ‘Yes, I am the one [who has] the wood. Everybody knows me because I have a document from the FDA with a license number assigned to me. I will give them my container serial number and they check it and we pass.”

But Feika warned against double-crossing him to deal with rangers directly. He recounted the story of two Korean illegal loggers, the police commander and other accomplices who were arrested in Klay, Bomi County.

“If the [authorities arrest] you, you are finished because some FDA [agents] will tell you, ‘Come, I will carry [them] for you.’ If you depend on them, you will lose,” Feika said.

Ironically, Feika did not know he was speaking to a reporter of the newspaper that exposed the syndicate. The DayLight would go on to assist a police investigation that led to the men’s arrest and the dismissal of the police commander and an FDA ranger.

Feika’s contacts and influence do not extend to the Freeport of Monrovia but he offered some valuable information. Smugglers must acquire an export permit and find a customs broker at the Freeport of Monrovia to help export the timber. It costs US$1,200 to obtain the export permit certificate from the FDA—US$1,000 for the permit and the balance to secure the document.

Two illegal loggers closing a container. Photo credit: Michael Feika

Once they obtain the permit, they will have to pay the container’s owner US$200 per container and  US$100 for each truck to transport them.

“Forget the shipment of the wood,” Feika reassured. “Once you get money, it is easy.”

His disclosure was not news to the undercover reporter. After all, The DayLight has published illegal permits, receipts and claims by kpokolo exporters in previous investigations. Those publications also revealed the mode of the illegal trade and its ringleaders.

Faika advised his presumed client to ship the wood to Turkey or Germany. “If it is Germany, I will be happy,” he said, “because I have some of my friends in Germany.”


This was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ). Funding for the story was provided by the Kyeema Foundation and Palladium.

Kpokolo: Illegal Logging Returns Despite ‘Ban’

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Top: New pieces of kpokolo in Gbaryama, Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/Gabriel Parker


By Esau J. Farr and Philip W. Quwebin


GBARYAMA – People in Gbarpolu are secretly harvesting Kpokolo, a boxlike timber the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) said it banned last year.

In late January, The DayLight photographed newly produced kpokolo in Gbaryama, a town in the Gbarma District about 79 miles from Monrovia. Hundreds of fresh kpokolo were placed on an open field just outside the town.

Townspeople revealed smugglers, who reside outside of the town, hired a gang of chainsaw operators to harvest kpokolo. Once harvested, the woods are transferred by a crane to a pickup, which then brings them to a location. Thereafter, they are loaded onto a container truck at night.

“They can hide it and take it away at night so, people can’t easily see them in the day,” Armah Dukuly, the Town Chief of Gbaryama Town. “We don’t get that power to stop them.”

More than three weeks later, The DayLight revisited Gbaryama and found that the kpokolo had been taken away. Journalists photographed tire impressions matching the description of a truck on the now-cleared field. About 14 pieces of the illegal wood remained there. The illegal loggers had transported the rest.

There were other kpokolo in the forest. DayLight journalists took a 15-minute ride from Gbaryama on a motorcycle taxi to a forest footpath leading into the woods.

In the forest, reporters saw short round logs that were meant to produce kpokolo. Timber remnants could be seen on the floor of the forest. Loud vroom noise from at least four chainsaws buzzed at different locations.  

Dukuly and other chiefs and elders told The DayLight the four men negotiate with farmers in Gbaryama, enter into a verbal agreement and start the harvesting. They said the operators pay the farmers up to L$550 for a piece of kpokolo, corroborating previous reports of locals’ involvement in the illegal trade.

People said the illegal loggers built tents made of tarpaulins in the forest to conduct their operations.

“Most of the time, they are in the forest.],” said Varsay Sirleaf, one of the oldest persons in Gbaryama Sirleaf.

A recent report by the US-based Forest Trends found that kpokolo threatens local communities, chainsaw millers and Liberia’s revenue. It uses the chainsaw milling subindustry to veil its activities, using the same workforce and timber sources, the report said.

But the difference between them is stark. Chainsaw-milled timber measures two inches and below, while Kpokolo can be up to five times thicker, or more. 

A few kpokolo remained in an open field more than three weeks after The DayLight photographed piles of kpokolo there. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

The kpokolo in Gbaryama were between two and four times the industry-accepted size of chainsaw-milled timber. The ones on the opened field were about six inches thick, based remaining ones there.

‘I felled few’

Four men conduct the kpokolo activities in Gbaryama, three of which The DayLight had previously investigated. The men are Saah Joseph (not the Montserrado lawmaker), one only identified as Sahyo, James Kelley and Richard Flomo.

Joseph has harvested kpokolo in Gbaryama for over two years, according to elders and chainsaw millers. Dukuly said Joseph recently resumed his kpokolo operations in the town after negotiating with some farmers.

The DayLight gathered evidence of Joseph’s illegal activities in December 2022. Locals said a pile of kpokolo in the middle of the town and the forest belonged to him.

“I think he has some in the bush and he is supposed to come for it,” said Molubah Korlubah, a kpokolo logger, who said he worked for Joseph in 2022.  

“The FDA people don’t come here. They focus on the gate,” Korlubah added.

Sahyo is a more conning operator than Korlubah, the evidence suggests. Originally from a town called Supermarket in Bopolu District, Sahyo harvests kpokolo even without the consent of farmers. Dukuly said he had had an encounter with him the night before The DayLight’s third of four visits to the town.  

“I asked him how he entered there to [harvest] kpokolo. And he only said, ‘I entered there, I saw kpokolo and myself [harvested] the logs…. I felled few.’

“Then I asked him, ‘Who [did] you ask?’”

“I stopped him,” Dukuly added.

Morris Kamara, a resident farmer, confirmed Dukuly’s account of Sahyo.

“This year, Sahyo [harvested] in my forest and produced kpokolo there and left,” Kamara revealed. “They have already transported it out of the forest to Monrovia.

“He is presently in another person’s forest producing but I don’t know where.”

Efforts to contact Sahyo and Joseph on their kpokolo operations were unsuccessful. Everyone The DayLight interviewed in Gbaryama said they did not have the duo’s contacts. Follow-up phone calls to other townspeople yielded no other results.

‘From one forest to another’

There were indications Kelley and Flomo were bigger operatives and more familiar with Gbaryama than Joseph and Sahyo.

Kpokolo townspeople said owned by Saah Joseph (not the Montserrado lawmaker) were seen in plain sight in Gbaryama in December 2022.  The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Kelley lodged in a house in the town, where The DayLight interviewed him in December 2022. A middle-aged, light-skinned man, Kelley has been in Gbaryama since September that year, he said at the time.

Dukuly said Kelley asked him recently to harvest kpokolo on his farmland but he disagreed. Kamara and Moses Thompson, another elder, corroborated Dukuly’s account.

“Kelley is here among the [kpokolo operators] but I don’t know whose forest he is working in. They move from one forest to another in search of more woods,” Thompson added.

Kelley’s phone number did not ring when The DayLight tried to contact him. However, in that 2022 interview, he revealed that he had been involved with kpokolo since 2014. He produced kpokolo in Buchanan before coming to Gbaryama.

“Here in Gbaryama, our dimensions were 4X12X9.5 and 4X10X9.5,” Kelley said back in 2022.  He meant four inches thick, 10 or 12 inches wide and nine and a half feet long.

But of all the kpokolo operators in Gbaryama, Flomo appeared to be the kingpin. Every farmer or resident The DayLight interviewed said they knew him. Even Kelley said in that 2022 interview Richard was his boss.

Dukuly said he called Flomo recently and informed him to halt the kpokolo operation but his order fell on deaf ears.

“He said, ‘Oh Chief, that one I just want y’all to give us a chance.’

“I said no. If I see it, you will lose it,’” Dukuly said. He added that Flomo tried to convince that it was the kpokolo operators that risked an arrest, not the townspeople.

Korlubah, the chainsaw miller, said he had harvested a container load of kpokolo for Richard in 2022. “There were 250 pieces of Kpokolo, 4X12 and 4X10,” Korlubah said then, confirming Kelley’s story.

“I worked for him in November. He paid me one piece for LD500.”

People said Flomo combed the region in this pickup in search of forest to produce kpokolo. They said it was he who introduced kpokolo to Gbaryama.

Efforts to contact Flomo did not materialize. No one in Gbaryama said they had his contact and Kelley had refused to share it back in 2022.

Molubah Korlubah, a kpokolo producer in Gbaryama, said he worked for Richard Flomo a kpokolo smuggler. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

‘There is no ban’

In February last year, said it had banned kpokolo. The unofficial pronouncement followed months of reports of widespread kpokolo activities involving the regulator.

Edward Kamara, the FDA manager for forest marketing and revenue forecast said kpokolo had become “prone to illegal exportation.”

The FDA has not published the ban or made awareness of it, except to discuss it in a meeting on Liberia’s timber trade agreement with the European Union last June. Forest Trends called on the Joseph Boakai administration to officiate, publicize and enforce the ban on kpokolo.   

In Gbaryama, people are aware of the so-called ban but chiefs and elders find it difficult to keep the ban.

“If you ban kpokolo in someone’s forest, the forest owner will get vexed [at] you. That person will feel that you want to stop their family’s income,” said Dukuly.

Morris Kamara, the Gbaryama resident, blames the FDA for the illegal activities. “We are getting that information [about banning kpokolo] as rumors. I believe if the FDA banned kpokolo, they could not allow kpokolo to pass [through] their checkpoints.

The FDA has major checkpoints on Bopolu-Monrovia and Tubmanburg-Monrovia highways. There is one each at Sawmill, not far from Gbaryama, and Klay in Bomi—to name two.

“If the people [are] still passing with kpokolo, then it means that [there is no ban] on kpokolo,” Kamara said.

The FDA did not respond immediately to comments. The DayLight will update this story once it does.


[Additional reporting by Gabriel Parker]

This was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ). Funding for the story was provided by the Kyeema Foundation and Palladium.

Forest Community Rejects Bea Mountain Settlement of US$6.3M Lawsuit  

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Top: Korninga B Authorized Forest Community has sued Bea Mountain Mining Corporation for US$4.3 million in damages for alleged illegal entry and destruction of its woodland. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Esau J. Farr


TUBMANBURG, Bomi County – A community forest in Gbarpolu County has rejected Bea Mountain Mining Corporation’s proposal for a settlement in a US$6.3 million lawsuit against the company.

Bea Mountain proposes to pay the Korninga B Community Forest  US$100,000, a US$65,000 mobile sawmill and a pair of chainsaws, according to the proposed settlement document seen by The DayLight.

Korninga B and Bea Mountain had agreed to the settlement in 2022 but the company pulled out of the arrangement, prompting the community to go to court. Locals filed for US$6.3 million action of damages over Bea Mountain’s alleged unauthorized entry and destruction of the forest.

Under the settlement agreement, seen by The DayLight, Bea Mountain offers to pay Korninga in two installments. The company agrees to deploy five staff to train the same number of townspeople to operate the sawmill, according to the document.

The settlement proposal also prohibits Bea Mountain from working in the forest and gives Korninga possession of the trees that Bea Mountain cleared.

Aaron Mulbah, the chief officer of Korninga, said they rejected the proposal because they had incurred expenses as a result of their lawsuit. “They have to go above that,” Mulbah told The DayLight.

Cllr. Kunkunyon Wleh Teh, Bea Mountain’s lead lawyer, declined an interview with The DayLight.

Verdict and Retrial

Korninga B’s lawsuit accuses Bea Mountain of felling over 2,800 logs to make a passage through the 78,624-acre forest in the Bokomu District to its mining sites, according to court documents. Bea Mountain is also accused of harvesting logs from the area to construct bridges, throwing some in valleys while burying others.

The company denies any wrongdoing, saying it only mined in areas covering its licenses, and that the community should instead pay it damages for allegedly obstructing its operations.

Following more than five months of legal battle, a six-man jury found Bea Mountain liable for wrongdoing.  

But the court granted Bea Mountain’s petition for a retrial on grounds that jurors failed to take witnesses’ testimonies into account and ignored inconsistencies in testimonies, calling the US$5 million damages “grossly disproportionate.”

In early March 2022, Bea Mountain Mining Corporation allegedly illegally entered the Korninga B Community Forest in Bokomu District and felled several trees.

Under the Community Rights Law…, locals own and comanage forests adjacent to their communities alongside the Forestry Development Authority (FDA). The law is a breakaway from the past, where only the government and companies had a say in forestry. It guarantees locals’ right to forestland and prohibits unauthorized entry and use of forest resources.

The Sixteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Bopolu, Gbarpolu County, from where the case was transferred to Tubmanburg, Bomi County. The DayLight/Dougba McCay

Before going to court, Korninga informed Bea Mountain of its ownership of the forest and Bea Mounting’s alleged illegal actions. The two parties agreed that the company would pay the community US$165,000 for the damages and other things.

Ruth Varney, a representative of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) in the western region, had compiled a report on the alleged damages with the company’s funds, court documents show.  

But Bea Mountain pulled out of the arrangement, which also included Keyah Saah, the Superintendent of Gbarpolu County. Angered by that, Korninga filed a US$4.3 million lawsuit against the company at the 16th Judicial Circuit Court in Bopolu, Gbarpolu County.

Bea Mountain’s defense team asked the court to dismiss the case. Its lawyers argued that locals did not have the right to sue the company and that it had legal mining licenses to operate in that area.

The three medium-scale mines in question are located in the same region as the Korninga B Community Forest. The licenses of two of the mines are held by MNG Gold, a company owned by Mehmet Nazif Günal, the Turkish billionaire who also owns Bea Mountain. The license for the other is held by Gbarpolu Mining Corporation, a Liberian-owned firm.

Prosecution lawyers led by Atty. Alston Armah asked the court not to grant the defense lawyers’ petition. Prosecution lawyers argued that Korninga had the authority to file the lawsuit. They added that the mining licenses were not owned by Bea Mountain.

The court in Bopolu agreed with Korninga and denied Bea Mountain’s petition, and the case proceeded. However, it was transferred to the 11th Judicial Circuit Court in Tubmanburg, Bomi County after another petition by defense lawyers.

Bea Mountain has proposed to give Korninga B US$100,000, and other things as a settlement in a lawsuit against it. The DayLight/Charles Gbayor

There, prosecution lawyers told the court Bea Mountain broke the Community Rights Law… “The destruction of the forest with no knowledge of the legal community forest is causing [the community] pain, suffering, mental anguish and distress,” one court filing read.

Lawyers of Bea Mountain counterargued that the company and a partner legally obtained the three mining licenses it operates in that region. They said the Korninga forest leadership did not have the authority to sue the company, only its ancestral land leadership had. They said the investigation conducted by Varney was not legal or binding because she was not authorized to do so.

The court heard testimony from Yanquoi Dolo, the head of the FDA’s legal department. “The FDA did not communicate any official assessment report involving Korninga B Community Forest,” Dolo told the jurors.

Following final arguments, the six-man jury handed down a unanimous verdict against Bea Mountain in October last year. The jurors held Bea Mountain liable for US$1,311,401.21 in special damages and US$3 million in general damages.

Three days after the ruling, the company filed a petition for a new trial, citing inconsistencies in witnesses’ testimonies and that the jurors ignored some of their evidence.

Prosecution lawyers argued that documentary evidence and testimonials were sufficient to have the company liable for the damages. They said the jurors’ guilty verdict matched the evidence produced during the trial.

But, this time, the court ruled in favor of Bea Mounting, ordering a retrial. Judge Ciapha Carey said the inconsistencies favored the company as well as the fact not all the trees in question were scaled.

Unsatisfied with the ruling, lawyers representing Korninga B  petitioned the Supreme Court for a review of the case. The high court affirmed Carey’s ruling for a  new trial.

Mulbah said Korninga was awaiting a retrial.

“We are asking international partners, NGOs to help the community people in our case with Bea Mountain,” Mulbah said. “Bea Mountain feel that they have money… but the law is there.

The law will provide for us.”

Commissioner Extorts Wood Dealers To ‘Repair Road’

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Top: The Commissioner of Gbarma Alfred O. Bah illegally imposed L$500 on trucks transporting planks from Gbarpolu County. The police may have taken advantage of Bah’s wood truck restriction to allegedly solicit a bribe from transporters. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue 


By James Harding Giahyue and Tenneh Keita


GBARMA DISTRICT, Gbarpolu – Three or four years ago, Alfred Bah, the Commissioner of Gbarma District, decided to collect money for trucks transporting wood from the western county.  

“When I took office, I was informed that the outgoing commissioner used to at least talk to the [wood dealers] … for district development,” Bah recalled in an interview at his office. “Whether I could do the same, I said ‘yes.’  For me, what I will do I will call the [wood dealers for] a meeting.’”

The meeting was held and the parties agreed that trucks carrying wood from Gbarpolu must pay L$500. The money would be used to repair a major stretch of road linking Gbarma to other parts of the county. 

That day, Bah added to a list of county officials who misuse their power to exploit wood dealers across the country. The officials do not have the authority to impose a fee on wood or other goods, according to the Local Government Act and the Chainsaw Milling Regulation. The former law restricts such function to county councils, governance bodies which have not yet been formed in most counties, including Gbarpolu. The latter empowers the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and local communities or private landowners. 

This is The DayLight’s third story on the subject after an August investigation exposed the involvement of the Superintendent of Lofa County William Tamba Kamba in the illegal deal. The first implicated a regional collector of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA). The series sheds a light on an unregulated subsector of forestry engrossed in corruption and impunity. 

An unissued receipt created by the Commissioner of Gbarma Alfred O. Bah and a representative of local plank producers meant for trucks carrying wood and other goods as part of a so-called scheme to repair a major route in Gbarpolu County. 

‘L$500 for each trip’

Varney Freeman, a representative of plank dealers in Gbarpolu, worked with to Bah organize the scheme. They imposed L$500 on each truck carrying wood. A vacant receipt we obtained brandishes: “Gbarpolu Road Maintenance Official Receipt” and “L$500 for each trip.” 

Freeman was responsible to make other plank dealers comply, though aware that the fee was illegal. “The [Commissioner] doesn’t have the legal power to impose fees on trucks plying the county’s roads but we are businesspeople,” Freeman said in an interview on his farm in Okai Village in November last year. Gbarpolu is one of the most forested regions in Liberia and a goldmine for many wood dealers. They are known in forestry as chainsaw millers from their use of the handheld device to make planks. 

“If we want to fight all the legal things, we will not get our business going,” Freeman added.  

So, trucks carrying wood began to pay the fee. A subbranch of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) at Sawmill on the Bopolu highway collected the fees, according to Bah and Freeman. Rangers at the subbranch corroborated their story. 

Bah claims he collected between L$16,000 and US$17,000 only, which was used to repair the road. Gbarpolu Superintendent Keyah Saah dismissed the claim, saying he (Saah) organized the youth to rehabilitate it instead. 

The FDA rightfully collects US$0.60 on each plank transported across the country. However, those payments are not turned over to the Liberia Revenue Authority, the agency of the government that collects taxes. There is no public record the FDA accounts for the funds. It took the agency more than a decade to devise a regulation for the subsector yet it is not enforcing it. Such lawlessness makes it easy for Bah’s toll system and other illegalities to succeed. 

But Bah’s system soon encountered a problem that would ultimately lead to its end, at least openly. First, some wood truckers refused to pay, arguing they did not take their planks from Gbarma and could not pay the district any toll. Second, there issues about the receipt capturing the entire county rather than just Gbarma. And dealers argued their vehicles were smaller than those of logging companies, several of whom operate in Gbarpolu. 

“I insisted that I will not pay the L$1,500,” said Kent Mamay, a plank dealer in the VOA Community. “There was a heated argument between them and myself and at the end of the day they were able to release my truck.” 

Amid the pressure, Bah halted the collection last year. He claims Gbarpolu County Assistant Superintendent for Development Joseph Akoi had ordered him to do so to avoid further problem. Akoi denies that, telling The DayLight in an interview in Bopolu he had not heard of a plank toll in Gbarma. 

But plank dealers and drivers The DayLight interviewed said they still paid the fee while the system was halted. Varney Tulay, another wood dealer in VOA, said no receipts were being issued this time around. 

Gbarpolu County, largely covered with forests, is a workplace for many plank dealers or chainsaw millers. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue
Wood truckers protested a toll system established by the Commissioner of Gbarma, Gbarpolu in which they had to pay L$500 to ply a major route in the county. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue 

“Like four to five months ago, they have stopped issuing receipts,” said Tulay in a September interview with The DayLight. “I came a month ago, last month August, and the [Commissioner] toll was paid…” Bah denies Tulay’s claim. 

‘Let [all] the vehicles pass’ 

After the protest, Bah ordered the police detail at Sawmill not to allow any wood truck ply that route during the rainy season last year. He repeated that this year, power a commissioner does not have. 

“With [an immediate] order, please stop all heavy equipment, wood trucks and coal trucks from using the main road from Bomi to Gbarpolu,” this year’s communication posted on the wall of the police detail read. It excluded vehicles transporting petroleum and food items. 

Bah said his action was not a reaction to the wood truck drivers’ protest but the aspiration of the community.   “The citizens are complaining that if people [do] not stop using this road and damaging the road they would demonstrate and I don’t want them to demonstrate,” he said. 

Asked why he did not inform the Ministry of Public Works about the road situation and about the illegality of his order, Bah said he did not know how to contact the ministry. “I don’t have the authority now to say I’m going to meet [the] public work minister to say ‘My feeder road is damaged and I want you to go fix it,’” Bah said. “It is not so easy, except where we are call in a workshop maybe I can raise this concern there maybe it can be looked [into].” 

Bah might have halted collections but perhaps unscrupulous police officers are allegedly taking advantage of his order to exploit wood dealers. During the day, they pretend to enforce the illegal order but solicited a bribe from wood truckers at night and allow them to pass. Residents of Sawmill, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, spoke of long queues of trucks that formed up to dusk and disappeared by dawn. 

Wood dealers, who backed up the residents’ account, dared to speak out. 

“They will demand us that the car can’t go. Then, certain time of the night, they will free us,” Tulay the VOA dealer told The DayLight. “Sometimes we pay L$2,500 at the gate just for the car to go.” Tulay said he reluctantly paid that and other fees and increased the prices of his planks. Furniture-makers we interviewed said they were buying wood at higher prices compared to previous years. 

Murphy Collins, the acting police commander at the Sawmill detail, neither denied nor confirm the claim. However, Collins disclosed that officers collected L$600 from trucks passing through the checkpoint, something Tulay and other dealers had mentioned. He said he used the money to run a generator and for other things.   “At night, we collect those small money and put it in our coffers to buy gas on a regular basis,” Collins said.  

Aware of its turnout, his vehicle restriction has caused, Bah now wants to rescind it. In fact, he may have already chosen the wordings for that communication to Collins.

“Since you don’t want to give me the respect, you’re allowing this act, then let [all] the vehicles pass,” Bah told The DayLight.  

“Sometime when you’re a leader [and] you’re not careful how to do things, …your name can [ be spoiled].”


The story was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ). It was originally published by the Daily Observer, an editorial partner of The DayLight. 

Kpokolo: Report Reveals Latest Illegal Logging Threatens Liberia’s Forests

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Top: Kpokolo seized at the FDA checkpoint in Klay, Bomi County. A report by U.S.-based Forest Trends launched today says kpokolo threatens Liberia’s rainforests and undermines the country’s climate change efforts. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By James Harding Giahyue


  • “Kpokolo,” a new form of illegal logging threatens Liberia’s rainforests, provides little benefit for the country and undermines its climate efforts.
  • Kpokolo harms small-scale loggers, who are the sole suppliers of wood to the domestic markets. Big companies are taking advantage of the illegal trade
  • The report calls on President-elect Joseph Boakai to take clear steps in banning kpokolo and punish violators of the ban

MONROVIA – Thick, four-cornered and expensive timber produced illegally across the country and smuggled in containers, are a threat to Liberia’s forests, and undermine its efforts to combat climate change, a report launched today by the US-based Forest Trends, has found.

The report—“‘Kpokolo’: A New Threat to Liberia Forest”—found that block wood or kpokolo, as it is commonly called, has no legal basis and harms small-scale loggers, rural communities and the country. It calls for a ban imposed on the illegal logging earlier this year to be made clear and official.

“The illegal exploitation takes advantages of weaknesses in enforcement, corrupting officials and compromising processes…,” Arthur Blundell one of the report’s two coauthors, told The DayLight.

“The newly elected president should take immediate steps to halt this illegal exploitation by confirming an official ban of kpokolo, including devoting resources for the enforcement of the prohibition,” Blundell added.

Based on interviews and media reports—including from The DayLight—the report suggested that kpokolo might have begun in the 2010s. It operates within the plank subindustry. However, the size of planks, which are two inches thick, differs sharply from kpokolo, which can be up to 12 inches thick, the report said.

Between October and December last year, researchers interviewed 267 community dwellers, chainsaw operators and wood dealers in eight counties for the kpokolo report. It is an update to a 2016 report on the wood market in Liberia.  

The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) did not immediately respond to questions for comments on the report. The agency had, at least officially, sanctioned the illegal operation, collecting fees from operators to transport the wood.

‘Economic sabotage’

The report did not find sufficient evidence on the scale of kpokolo but found enough cases where the new form of illegal logging posed a threat to the country. It said kpokolo undermined Liberia’s climate change efforts, and the protection of the country’s forest, West Africa’s largest remaining rainforest. Liberia has pledged to the United Nations to reduce deforestation by 50 percent by 2030 among other commitments.

The coauthors of the report called for the entire industry to rally against kpokolo.

“Without such a whole-sector approach, Liberia risks allowing illegal logging to undermine not just [sustainable forest management] but governance in rural areas more broadly as kpokolo has a corrupting influence on local authorities and community leaders,” Blundell said.

The report gathered evidence that large companies were exploiting the kpokolo situation to “squeeze out artisanal operators who supply the local wood markets.”

Operators, known in the industry as chainsaw millers, perhaps need to promote a recently adopted regulation to limit kpokolo, the report suggested.

Though chainsaw milling has been largely unregulated since its emergence in the 2000s, the subindustry has been allowed to supply much-needed wood to the domestic markets. One FDA report dubs it a “necessary evil.”

Squared timbers, commonly called “Kpokolo” illegally harvested in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

People researchers interviewed said companies were exporting the wood to Ukraine before its war with Russia. Researchers learned that kpokolo timber were being exported for railroad ties, which matched the dimensions of the illegal wood. 

The report quoted people stating companies were smuggling kpokolo through containers, one of them Akewa Group of Companies, a Nigerian-owned firm that has violated nearly every forestry law. There is a mention of Askon Liberia General Trading Inc., which was debarred from forestry over its illegal operations, with its Turkish owners arrested in May. Akewa did not respond to questions over its alleged involvement in kpokolo.

In February, three months before the ban, the FDA had announced that it had banned kpokolo. In June Liberia also discussed the ban at an annual forestry meeting with the European Union.

Those steps were not enough and that kpokolo could still be ongoing as operators could claim they are unaware of the ban, according to the report. Forest Trends recommends that President-elect Joseph Boakai makes a detailed announcement of the ban, capturing legal instruments supporting the ban, the definition of kpokolo, and penalties for violating it.

“If the ban is not carefully detailed and widely disseminated, it is unlikely to be effective in the face of powerful business forces involved,” said Kristin Canby, a senior director of Forest Trends’ Forest Trade and Finance Initiative that led the report.

“The ban must be followed by a clear demonstration of enforcement,” Canby said in a press release.

David Young, the other coauthor of the report said violators of the ban should be punished in line with forestry laws and regulations, “including economic sabotage for complicit officials.

“As part of a renewed commitment by the FDA under the new administration, enforcement should include punishing kpokolo operators and buyers of their wood, as well as the corrupt officials that allowed the illegal exploitation,” Young told The DayLight.  

Sierra Leoneans Conduct Illegal Logging in Nimba

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Top: A graphic depicting an illegal logging operation conducted by a group of six Sierra Leonean loggers for a Liberian company called Libfor Forest Corporation. The DayLight/Rebazar Forte


By Mark B. Newa


KARNPLAY –  A  group of Sierra Leoneans, hired by a Liberian businessman, are conducting an illegal logging operation in a forest in Nimba County, according to documents, interviews and photographs.

With the help of locals, the operations are producing thick timber near the Ivory Coast border in Karnplay, Gbelay-Geh District.   

The Sierra Leoneans’ operations violate the Chainsaw Milling Regulation, which bars non-Liberians from working in the subsector, evidence shows. Their products go against the standard measurement for planks, matching a form of logging recently banned by the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).

From Bo to Nimba

In early May, a representative of Libfor Forest Corporation, met  Aruna Kamara, Bobson Lusainy, Philip Sungu, Sorie Bangura and two other men in the Sierra Leonean eastern province of Bo. The representative asked them to travel to Liberia and serve as chainsaw operators of Libfor, a small-scale logging company established in 2021.

By May 30, the six men headed to the Liberian border at Bo Waterside. There, the company’s representative arranged for emergency travel certificates for the men, according to the documents seen by The DayLight. 

Not long after, the men found themselves in Ganta, some 303 miles away from home. They signed a contract. Tejan Jalloh, a Sierra Leonean who works for Libfor, signed for the company, while Sungu signed for the men.

They agreed to harvest timber, with a payment of L$600 per piece, according to their contract, obtained by The DayLight.   

Two of the Sierra Leonean pitsaw operators, Aruna Kamara, Borbor Lusainy caught on the reporter’s camera in Gbehnehylay, near the Ivory Coast border. TheDayLight/Mark B. Newa

The six men were then transported to Trorplay, a village in the Gbeh-Somah Clan, Gborplay Chiefdom.

They cut down trees on the farms of individual farmers between L$1,500 and L$3,000. They have already harvested 460 planks, according to Kamara, the oldest of the men.  

“We hauled some on the road and the rest are in the bush,” Kamara, the oldest of the six men, told The DayLight in an interview.

‘Kpokolo’

Our reporter photographed stacks of the illegal timber by roadsides and in several other locations. They match the profile of Iroko, a durable wood species used for shipbuilding, furniture and outdoor construction. Currently, it is selling up to US$390 on the international market.

Community leaders are unhappy with the loggers for three reasons. First, they think the Sierra Leoneans are buying the trees too cheaply. Second, they feared that cutting the trees would make their community vulnerable to rainstorms. Locals use the Iroko trees for herbs.  

“The tree can protect our towns and villages from strong wind. Iroko is a very strong wood and it also has a kind of value for traditional herbs,” said Anthony Wopleh, a farmer in Trorplay.

   

Over 100 pieces of Iroko timber risked shrinking in the sun in Trorplay where the Sierra Leonean loggers are stationed. The DayLight/Mark B. Newa
Some pieces of sewn Iroko packed near the road between Trorplay and Gbehnehylay in Twa River Administrative District in Gbehlay-Geh, near the Ivory Coast border. TheDayLight/Mark B. Newa

“This is a tree that our people use to heal sicknesses like rheumatism and it is very helpful in treating other diseases,” Wopleh added.

“Cutting down the trees and carrying them like that, [with] nothing remaining here for our community is not good. Look at our roads, from here to Karnplay is so bad,” said Samson Zreakpa, a chief in the Gbeh-Somah Clan.

Local chainsaw millers are also upset with the Sierra Leoneans for “undermining” their efforts. “The guys have infringed on our movement and they have entered into the bush, telling our people negative things,” said Emmanuel Gongor, who ran illegal operations in the region exposed earlier this year by The DayLight.

Amara Fofana, the sole owner of Libfor, based on its article of incorporation, denies the allegations. “My power saws are registered with the local chainsaw union, and they know me good,” Fofana told The DayLight via phone.

‘I cannot fight the government’  

The accusations against the Sierra Leoneans may be true or not but the illegality of their operations is obvious.  Under the Chainsaw Milling Regulation, non-Liberians are debarred from making planks. The subsector, started by ex-combatants following the end of Liberia’s bloody civil wars in 2003, is primarily meant to supply the domestic market and provide jobs for Liberians.   

Also, Libfor does not have a chainsaw milling permit and the farmers who are selling to Sierra Leoneans do not have the authorization to do so. However, that level of violation is commonplace in the subindustry. Apart from imposing fees on chainsaw millers, the FDA has failed to regulate the lucrative trade in its 20 years of existence.

Moreover, the size of the wood the Sierra Leoneans are producing is prohibited. Normally, the FDA allows only up to two-inch-thick planks in the subindustry, and not three-inch.

Sorie Bangura, spokesperson for the Sierra Leonean chainsaw operators stands before piles of Iroko sprawling on the sun in Trorplay, the village where they are stationed. TheDayLight/Mark B. Newa

Over the last decade or so, the FDA secretly sanctioned the production of oversized timber, commonly called “Kpokolo.” In February, the agency announced it had “banned” kpokolo, following a series of reports by The DayLight. The agency admitted it had permitted kpokolo producers to supply sawmills across the country but that permit was abused.

In the phone interview, Fofana said he was harvesting Iroko to make furniture at his own sawmill. He said he expected some machines soon.

“I want to make furniture in Caldwell to compete with the Lebanese businessmen in Monrovia,” Fofana, said via phone, revealing he had 20 chainsaws in the Nimba belt.

Fafona added that he had hired Sierra Leoneans because he could not find any Liberian to do the work. Later, he claimed that Liberians were lazy, dishonest and counterproductive to his company’s vision.

“There are no good operators in Liberia,” Fofana claimed. “This is why somebody brought me those guys to work for me.”

Over the debarment of non-Liberians, Fofana argued that the ECOWAS protocol empowered the Sierra Leoneans to work anywhere in Liberia.   

That claim is wrong. People from ECOWAS countries are entitled to a 90-day stay in Liberia. However, they are not allowed to work without a residence permit, according to the Aliens and Naturalization Law. If they work without residence permits—as in the case of the Sierra Leoneans—they violate the law. In fact, the Sierra Leoneans should have obtained work permits before felling their first tree, according to the Decent Work Act.

The Emergency Travel Certificate bearing the name, Philip Sungu, a farmer from Sembehun Selinda in Bo District, Sierra Leone. TheDayLight/Mark B. Newa
The signature page of the contract between six Sierra Leonean chainsaw operators and a Liberian-owned company called Libfor Forest Corporation. The DayLight/Mark B. Newa

Apparently conceding, Fofana said he would send the men to Gormahplay in the Bu-Yao District, toward the Ivory Coast border at Butuo.

Further in the interview, Fofana lied that he was not aware his Sierra Leonean workers were harvesting oversized planks. However, The contract his company signed with the Sierra Leoneans exposed him. It clearly obligates the men to harvest timber measuring three inches in thickness, 13 inches in width and 15 feet in length.

Told of the clause of the contract that speaks about the height of the wood, Fofana conceded.

“Actually, I do not know that one,” he told our reporter. “When the wood is above the size required by law, I will reduce it because I cannot fight the government.”  

It was easier for Fofana to have said those words than it is done in forestry. Illegal timber harvest is punishable by a fine of three times the industry’s price of the wood and the total cubic meter of the wood in question. Violators could also face a six-month prison term or both fine and imprisonment, according to the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products.


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

International NGOs Call for Halt to Blue Carbon Deal

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Top: Liberia’s proposed deal with Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates is expected to cover over a million hectares of rainforests. Graphic by Rebazar Forte


By James Harding Giahyue


  • Liberia and Blue Carbon should halt carbon credit negotiation, as the deal violates Liberian laws, according to a group of international NGOs  
  • The deal must comply with procurement, forestry and land laws, and seek the consent of local communities to continue
  • The NGOs say the United Arab Emirates wants to use the agreement to “greenwash,” its own carbon emissions
  • NGOs say the “vague” and “secret” deal is not good for the Liberian government and indigenous communities and undermines Liberia’s own climate targets

MONROVIA – A group of 16 international NGOs has called for a halt to an ongoing carbon credit deal between Liberia and Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates until it complies with Liberian laws and is clear on how the country and local communities would benefit.  

The Liberian government and Blue Carbon negotiating the terms of the agreement. The government wants to give the company over 1 million hectares of land over 30 years for US$50 billion, according to a draft memorandum of understanding (MoU).

But the deal would be a violation of Liberia’s procurement forestry and land laws, the statement said. 

“We, therefore, call upon the Government of Liberia and Blue Carbon to halt these negotiations until there is clear evidence that the contract is in line with Liberian law,” the NGO said in a statement released last week. 

“This risks the livelihoods of up to a million people. It would also extinguish community land ownership in the selected areas while violating peoples’ legal right to provide free, prior and informed consent for any developments on their land,” it added.

In March, Liberia and Blue Carbon penned the agreement, in which Liberia is expected to lease Blue Carbon a number of protected areas and proposed protected areas to solely manage. Blue Carbon’s mission is to use bilateral agreements to help reduce carbon emissions globally, according to its website.

“This bilateral association marks another milestone for Blue Carbon to enable government entities to define their sustainable frameworks and help transition to a low-carbon economical system…,” Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, Blue Carbon’s chairman and senior member of UAE’s Royal Ruling Family.  

Minister of Finance and Development Planning Samuel Tweah, Jr. said the deal marked an “era of sustainability.”  

But local communities that would be affected by the deal have not had a say in it, a violation of the National Forestry Reform Law, the Land Rights Act and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, an instrument Liberia has signed into law.  All three legal instruments require villagers’ free, prior and informed consent in concessions negotiations.

Furthermore, more than 1 million hectares of rainforests render the MoU illegal. Liberia’s forestry law limits forest concessions to 400,000 hectares.

The NGOs call on the parties to consult communities and incorporate their benefits into the deal. They include Fern, Friends of Earth Netherlands and the Environmental Investigation Agency.

“It should also prove that the financial support provided protects threatened forests and restores degraded forests with strict monitoring and control mechanisms in place,” the statement said.

The proposed deal would also break the Public Procurement and Concession Act because there was no bidding.

A forest in Sinoe County is one of the places that would be affected by the proposed Blue Carbon deal. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

The Liberian cabinet endorsed Blue Carbon as a sole source on June 3, based on a letter from the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Mike Doryen to the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC).

In the letter, Doryen asked PPCC’s Officer-in-Charge Stevenson Yond to approve Blue Carbon as a sole bidder for the concession.

Section 55 of the procurement law allows for “sole sourcing,” except in an “extreme urgency,” and other instances, none of which the deal qualifies for.  

Section 101 of the act also provides for a sole source but limits it to a bidder with specialized expertise only that bidder can provide. It also requires the concession to involve research only the bidder can undertake or it would be against national security for a competitive bidding process. However, none of those instances fits Blue Carbon, established only about a year ago and had not traded in the carbon market before.

Doryen did not immediately respond to The DayLight’s queries for comments.

‘Greenwashing’

The international NGOs accused the UAE, a country that has one of the highest emission rates in the world, of using the Blue Carbon deal to offset its own greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, the Arab nation, which hosts the United Nations climate change conference later this year, allegedly wants to invest in Liberia’s rainforest and continue its energy, oil/gas and infrastructure projects.

“The revenue model described in this contract generously allows for that,” the statement said. “This contract seems to give Blue Carbon, a private UAE company, the authority to act on Liberia’s behalf to negotiate [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] Article 6 rules.” Article 6 of the Paris Climate Agreement talks about carbon credits and trading.

The NGOs critique the draft document’s intent to award Blue Carbon the exclusive right to use carbon credits. Blue Carbon would exclusively manage the forest resources, including reforestation, conservation and ecotourism, according to the MoU.

“If they are sold, Liberia will not be able to use the carbon credits to meet its own climate targets,” the statement said. Liberia committed at the Paris Summit to reduce deforestation by 50 percent by 2030.  

“It is unclear what the benefits for Liberia and its communities will be. The contract is confidential and extremely vague, and a [MoU]… signed in March this year has not been widely discussed,” it added.

The statement followed criticisms from national NGOs and the Liberian People’s Party.  

The DayLight has reached out to Blue Carbon for comments.

Ex-Minister Leaves Government With A Trail of Illegal Acts

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Top: Former Minister Cooper Kruah smiling in his office at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications: Facebook/Emmanuel Fred


By Mark B. Newa


  • Cllr. Cooper Kruah was a shareholder in a logging and mining company while he served as Minister of Posts and Telecommunications
  • Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC) received nearly a dozen mining licenses and one logging contract while Cooper was a minister
  • Kruah  tried to cover up his conflict of interest by pretending to turn over his shares with an apparently fake company document
  • With Kruah a shareholder, UFC was involved in an illegal subcontract, illicit logging, and smuggling of logs
  • Amid evidence of Kruah’s and UFC’s offenses, both the Forestry Development Authority and the Ministry of Mines and Energy did not punish Kruah or UFC

MONROVIA – In May, President George Weah dismissed then Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Cooper Kruah after attending a Unity Party rally, ending the veteran lawyer’s four-year stint in the government.

Kruah’s departure sparked an instant controversy—betrayal versus “political intolerance.” However, he has left a host of irregularities in the logging and mining industries with impunity.

These offenses range from a conflict of interest to an unlawful extraction of minerals and timber in his hometown of Nimba County. The acts violate the Liberian Constitution, the Code of Conduct for Public Officials, the National Forestry Reform Law and the Minerals and Mining Law of 2000.

UFC was established on February 9, 1986. Edward Slangar, a former presidential advisor, holds 10 percent.  Jim Kyung follows with 70 percent. Naranyan Vasnani, a foreign national, holds five percent. And Cooper Kruah the remaining five percent, according to the company’s legal documents at the Liberian Business Registry.

President Weah appointed Kruah in February 2018 and was confirmed by the Senate in August 2018. However, Kruah did not relinquish his shares or take other legal actions to avoid a conflict of interest.

UFC would go on to have more than a dozen mining licenses and a logging contract in Nimba and Grand Bassa, while Kruah served as the Postmaster General of the Republic of Liberia.

Cover-up Exposed

The DayLight initially exposed then-Minister Kruah in an investigation last year. After the publication, Kruah lied that UFC amended its article of incorporation in 2019.  “This amendment of the article of incorporation is the best evidence for the public,” Kruah said in a statement at the time.

But records of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) show that UFC did not amend its article of incorporation in 2019.  Companies pay a fee at the LRA to amend their legal documents. UFC did not make any such payment, official records show.

This new evidence reinforces The DayLight’s previous reports.

Moreover, UFC’s so-called article of incorporation, obtained by The DayLight, physically appears to be fake. The document misspells Kruah son`s name: “Prince M. Kuah” instead of Prince M. Kruah. It also came more than one and a half years since Kruah became a government official.

Conflict of interest aside, evidence points to UFC’s violations of forestry and mining laws while Cooper Kruah was a minister.

Stealing Logs

A high-profile 2021 report found UFC committed a number of offenses. The report said UFC did not declare “massive” harvesting of timber in the Sehzueplay Community Forest, felled trees outside of its contract area, and transported logs to a sawmill without valid documents. The report also found UFC did not pay the community and the government any fees for the logs.

Illegally harvesting timber violates a number of forestry legal frameworks, including Liberia’s Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union. No actions were taken against UFC with then Minister Cooper Kruah as one of its shareholders.

The Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI) report for 2019-2020 shows UFC skipped an environmental permit. And The DayLight reported UFC did obtain a harvesting certificate before operating, citing a ranger’s memo.

Logs Universal Forestry Corporation, owned by then Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Cooper Kruah, illegally harvested in Tappita, Nimba County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue   

As of March 2022, UFC owed both the affected community and the government US$155,000, according to the joint implementation committee of the VPA. This is the second-highest debt owed by a logging company at the time. The FDA did not grant The DayLight’s request for UFC’s updated outstanding payment, another violation of forestry laws.

UFC subcontracted an illegitimate company without the approval of the FDA or the consent of the leadership of Sehzueplay Community Forest. The manager of Ihsaan Logging Company Mohammed Paasawe was dismissed as Superintendent of Grand Cape Mount County for corruption.

The FDA could have avoided all of this, though. It ignored the Regulation on Bidder Qualification, by prequalifying UFC to operate, while then Minister Cooper Kruah remained its shareholder.

The agency did not respond to questions for comments. However, last year, Managing Director Mike Doryen promised to investigate and take appropriate actions against UFC and Cooper Kruah but has not. “I will not protect any official of government who breaks the law,” Doryen said at the time.

Conflict of interest carries a fine between US$10,000 and US$25,000, up to three times the sum Kruah has received from his equity in UFC, or a prison term of up to 12 months, according to the National Forestry Reform Law.

UFC’s Illegal Goldmines

UFC thrived with Kruah a cabinet minister. Between 2018 and last month when he was sacked, the Ministry of Mines and Energy awarded UFC nearly a dozen mining licenses and a dealer license, according to official records. It managed only a few prior to Kruah’s appointment.

Universal Forestry Corporation did not reclaim its mines in Tappita, Nimba County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue  

That boom is reflected in UFC’s figures. In the 2018-2019 period alone, UFC produced 16.85 kilograms of gold with export valued at US$313.525, according to the LRA payment record. It paid the government US$99,545, one of the highest contributions then, the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI) reported.

The ministry unlawfully allowed UFC to operate, despite Kruah’s admitting to a conflict of interest, and did not penalize it amid the evidence.  

The ministry declined an interview on the subject in the last 12 months. On both occasions, Minister Gesler Murry referred The DayLight to Deputy Minister Operations Emmanuel Sherman, who evaded an interview.  

Like the forestry law, the Mineral and Mining Law requires officials to not hold shares in companies that actively operating. It prescribes a fine of not more than US$25,000, a prison term of up to one year, or both upon conviction in a courthouse.  

Kruah declined an interview, the second time he has refused to speak on his connection with UFC. This month, he promised to grant an interview on the matter but—like last year—insisted he did not want the conversation recorded. This reporter rejected that suggestion, as it goes against The DayLight’s editorial policy.  

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

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