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Villagers’ Hopes Hang as Loggers Battle in Court

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Top: Coveiyalah’s majority and minority shareholders have been in court for about two years, staling the company’s agreement with Korninga A Community Forest. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Emmanuel Sherman


GIANKPA, Gbarpolu – Villagers celebrated when Korninga “A” Community Forest signed a logging contract with Coveiyalah Investment Enterprise in March 2019.

“Within the next five years, I am hoping to see the community prospering when it comes to roads, sanitation, education and healthcare,” said Armah Johnson, a member of Korninga A’s leadership, at the time.

In the agreement, Korninga A leased Coveiyalah 48,296 hectares of forest in exchange for development. There is even a provision for a wood science college, which campaigners criticized for being “unrealistic.”

Nearly five years on, Johnson and other villagers find themselves longing for even the realistic projects, common to community forest deals. There are no latrines, concrete bridges, health facilities and—obviously—wood science college.

For the last two years, the shareholders of Coveiyalah have been embroiled in a fierce lawsuit, leaving the community without their benefits.  

In 2022, Anthony Urey, Coveiyalah’s 10 percent shareholder, sued Lu Li, the company’s 90 percent shareholder, according to a court document.

The DayLight saw a notice from the Commercial Court in Monrovia at Coveiyalah’s camp in Giankpa, halting its work. The company’s log yard and personnel lodge were all overtaken by bush.

Levi Laban, a former liaison officer with the company said the company left many logs in the bush due to the case.

The court filing posted on an earthmover at the company’s sawmill shows Urey petitioned the court for an indemnity bond and his partner objected. An indemnity bond ensures a remedy against a partner in a contract if that partner fails to uphold their obligations.

Efforts to get the case file did not materialize as the matter is still before the court. Attempts to get it elsewhere proved unsuccessful.

Two years in court has been two years of wait, lack and frustration for Korninga A.

Korninga A Community Forest, which covers 48,296 hectares, signed an agreement with Coveiyalah Investment Enterprise in 2019. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“There have been no payments done, land rental, [harvesting], or scholarships,” said Emery Ciapha, the head of the community leadership of Korninga A.

Coveiyalah constructed two toilets but the community rejected them. Our reporter who visited Giankpa said grasses overran the facilities due to abandonment.

“That is not what we want,” Ciapha said. “They are not the modern toilets we agreed upon.”

Urey told the community leadership that they would make the payment after the case, according to Ciapha.

It was unclear how much Coveiyalah owes the villagers as Ciapha said he did not have the information. However, an analysis of the company’s previous payments, the agreement, and records of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) places the amount to at least US$66,407 in land rental fees, US$55,058 in harvesting fees and US$30,000 in scholarships. That is US$151,465 in total.

Emery Ciapha, the head of an ad-hoc leadership of Korninga A Community Forest in Bokomu District, Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Urey did not respond to The DayLight’s inquiries on Korninga A and the case with his partners.

The case is the latest of Korninga A’s nightmares. In 2022, the leaders of the forest misused US$76,000 and were jailed for it.

With the case still not being finalized, the FDA and civil society conducted an election in which Ciapha was elected head of an interim committee in September last year. It has a six-month mandate.

The community must review the agreement with Coveiyalah in May. In forestry, the community has the right to sign a 15-year agreement with the FDA to comanage its forest. Thereafter, villagers can sign a third-party agreement with a logging company of their choice with the FDA’s approval. Then every five years, they are required to review the third-party agreement.

Ciapha said Korninga would push to cancel the contract with Coveiyalah.

“Time is about to elapse for the revision of the document, which is May 25,” Ciapha said. “We are not thinking about the renewal of their contract after review because implementation is poor.”

Villagers Seek to Cancel Logging Contract

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Top: Gbarquoita is one of the affected communities of Bondi Mandingo Community Forest, which wants to cancel a logging agreement with Indo Africa Plantation Liberia Limited. The DayLight/Harry Browne


By Esau J. Farr


FARWHENTA – A community forest in Gbarpolu wants to cancel its logging contract with Indo Africa Plantations, a Singaporean-owned company.

Bondi Mandingo Community Forest signed a 15-year agreement with Indo Africa in 2018 in anticipation of development in their area.  However, five years on, the company has not honored the agreement.

It owes Bondi Mandingo over US$400,000 in land rental and harvesting fees, and mandatory development projects, barely exploiting the forest.

“We are now pushing to cancel the contract,” said Darkanel Gbarto, the chairman of the Bondi Mandingo forest executive committee. “There has been no progress on the side of the company.”

Bondi Mandingo’s contract covers 37,222 hectares with Indo Africa, one of four contracts held by a Singaporean family, the Guptas.

The company agreed to pay the community US$46,527 as annual land rental fees. It promised to make an annual payment of US$35,000 as a scholarship fund and US$25,000 for yearly support to community healthcare.  

Additionally, Indo Africa promised to recondition roads, construct modern latrines, a youth center and a paramount chief office in affected communities.

But Indo Africa did not live up to the agreement. It only began work in late 2021, nearly three years after the agreement, a violation that is a ground for termination. It harvested 7,183 logs, according to the company’s production records.

Protest

In late 2021, after several failed efforts to get their benefits, Bondi Mandingo youth protested, setting up roadblocks in the contract area. They demanded the company settle all of its debts to the community. They called off the protest after local authorities intervened and the company paid US$5,000.

Indo Africa began work in the Bondi Mandingo Community Forest in 2021, three years after it signed an agreement with the community. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

In early 2022, Bondi Mandingo passed a resolution, calling Indo Africa to pay 60 percent of their social benefits before transporting logs out of the forest.

Indo Africa paid US$65,000 for land rental and harvesting fees and promised to make regular payments as of April 2022.

But that would be the last time the community received a payment from Indo Africa. Bondi Mandingo has exerted several unsuccessful efforts for its benefits.  

As it stands, Indo Africa owes Bondi Mandingo over US$400,000 in harvesting fees, scholarships and medical funds. It also failed to provide any of over a dozen mandatory projects.

It informed the FDA about their plight. The agency requested a breakdown of the debt, which locals did. “The company failed all of the social responsibilities. Therefore, we are kindly asking you to give us your technical advice…,” the community wrote the FDA in a June 2023 letter. 

Indo Africa shut down, with Mukesh Gupta, its CEO and owner, leaving Liberia and has not returned for nearly two years now. The family also owns Sing Africa and Starwood, which have contracts with Bluyeama and Matro Kpogblen community forests in Lofa, and Grand Bassa respectively. Another community is Korninga B which cancelled its contract with Indo Africa last year over non-compliance issues.

All community contracts are subject to a five-year review under the forestry reform law of Liberia. Bondi Mandingo forest contract with Indo Africa was expected to be reviewed last December but failed due to the absence of representatives of the company in Liberia.

Gupta did not respond to questions The DayLight sent to him. However, in a previous communication, Indo Africa blamed the delay in its payment on the coronavirus pandemic.

“The global economic slowdown and lockdown of the markets declared by several countries have adversely affected our cash flow situation,” the company said at the time.

Those comments are not backed by facts. None of the Guptas’ companies, including Indo Africa, declared a force majeure during the pandemic.  

Sing Africa was active as the pandemic took its toll. Between 2019 and 2021, Sing Africa produced 2,166 logs in Bluyeama, according to the FDA’s records. The DayLight saw WhatsApp message exchanges between Mukesh Gupta, CEO of Indo Africa, and Mark Dennis, the chief officer of Bondi Mandingo.

Mark Dennis is the chief officer of the Bondi Mandingo Community Forest. The DayLight/Harry Browne

Last September, who runs the business of Bondi Mandingo, sent Gupta a citation for a meeting.

“Mark Dennis… I will be coming back after the elections in Liberia. I will settle community dues and other obligations,” Gupta replied. “Requesting you to have a meeting after the election. Thanks.”   

“Chairman, we have waited for so long and never [heard] from you,” Dennis said. “Presently, we have embarked on court actions.”

In October 2023, Gupta replied to Dennis saying, “We are ready to pay land rental. I will be coming back to Liberia after Christmas.” Gupta, however, did not return up to writing time.

The agreement between the parties calls for the process of arbitration before cancellation in a dispute arising from performance and other things.

To cancel their agreement, Bondi Mandingo must inform Indo Africa about its decision, according to the document.  Then both parties are required to present one arbitrator each, with another from the FDA. The three arbitrators will preside over the exercise, hear both sides and make a final decision.

Gbarto told The DayLight that the community started the arbitration but the process did not go through as Indo Africa “cannot be found.” He said there were issues with the FDA arbitrator and the venue of the process. The FDA did not respond to queries for this story.

Gbarto said the community would consult a lawyer on the way forward with the cancelation.

Other communities have embarked upon terminating their contracts with Guptas. Bluyeama in Zozor, Lofa and Matro Kpogblen in District Number 4, Grand Bassa, have also considered cancelation of their contracts with Sing Africa and Starwood.

Bondi Mandingo Community Forest covers 37,222 hectares in the Bopolu District of Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Last year, Korninga B, a neighboring community, terminated its contract with Indo Africa over non-compliance.  

Given their experiences with Indo Africa, locals now prefer conservation to commercial logging. The Community Rights Law… gives them the right to make that choice with the approval of the FDA.

“The community has now shifted its initial plan from logging to conservation,” Dennis said. “They are looking at the benefits of conservation to the environment.”

Bondi Mandingo has decided to distribute US$65,000 they received from Indo Africa among all six affected communities for projects, according to documents seen by The DayLight.

Totoquellie and Farwhenta selected a maternity center and auditorium, while Sappima, Loloma,  Guyanta, Gbarquoita chose a guesthouse each.

Boakai Picks Illegal and Anti-Regulation Logger For FDA

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Top: Rudolph Merab, the new Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority. Picture credit: The Liberia Timber Association


By James Harding Giahyue


  • President Joseph Boakai over the weekend nominated Rudolph Merab as Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA). Merab is an illegal logger and a critic of regulations and conservation efforts
  • Merab and ex-President Charles Taylor were business partners. Militiamen and ex-combatants guarded Merab’s Liberia Wood Management Corporation (LWMC) in the early 2000s, according to Global Witness
  • Bopolu Development Corporation (BODECO), another company Merab is associated with, participated in the biggest postwar logging scandal  
  • Merab is an outspoken cynic of regulation and conservation, things the FDA was established to enforce and promote
  • Boakai has known Merab for over 50 years and served as chairman of the board of directors of one of Merab’s companies

MONROVIA – President Joseph Boakai has appointed Rudolph Merab—a wartime business partner of ex-President Charles Taylor, whose company participated in Liberia’s biggest postwar, logging scandal—as the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).  Merab is an outspoken cynic of conservation and postwar regulations, key pillars of forestry reform.  

Boakai, who was inaugurated last month with a promise to fight corruption and uphold the rule of law, appointed Merab on Saturday following a month of speculations.

It is unclear whether Merab meets the legal requirements to head the FDA due to his well-documented illegal logging activities during Liberia’s deadly civil wars between 1989 and 2003. His company, Liberia Wood Management Corporation (LWMC), was the subject of international reports and was an issue during ex-President Taylor’s war crimes trial.

FDA’s Regulation on Bidder Qualifications partially debars wartime businesspeople such as Merab, who held a forestry contract before 2006, from conducting logging activities.

The regulation requires wartime loggers to file a sworn statement with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), admit their illegal activities and cooperate with the FDA to recover funds the government lost due to their illegal activities. However, the regulation is silent on whether or not a wartime logger is eligible to head the agency.

Also, Merab, who has a degree in physics, does not meet the educational qualifications for the job. The FDA Act requires the head of the agency to be “professionally educated in forestry.”

Campaigners had called on Boakai to respect that clause in the FDA act as part of his expressed quest for respect for the rule of law.  

Rudolph Merab (standing behind President Joseph Boakai) and other alumni of the College of West Africa. Picture credit: Facebook/Ernest Bruce

“At this present state of Liberia’s forestry industry, it needs someone with the necessary skills, contact, and connections… to turn the forestry sector around… beyond mere logging,” communities affected by logging contracts said in a statement last week.

“The sector is at a critical juncture, as numerous initiatives have failed to meet expectations over the past six to 10 years,” the statement added.  

Boakai’s relationship with Merab goes way back. They met at the College of West Africa, with Boakai graduating in 1967 and Merab five years thereafter. Boakai later served as chairman of the board of directors of LWMC, sources, including Boakai’s campaign website, show.

Merab declined an interview with The DayLight.

Merab, the wartime logger

LWMC was founded in 1988 with Merab’s 10 percent share among a list of shareholders that included his late brother Edward Merab. It held a contract for Grand Cape Mount and Lofa. By the end of the Second Liberian Civil War (1997 – 2003), LWMC valued between US$500,000 and US$1 million and had about 300 workers, according to international investigators.

LWMC’s properties in then-Lower Lofa, Bomi and Grand Cape Mount Counties were protected by ex-combatants and armed militiamen, Global Witness reported. Within the first six months of 2000 alone, LWMC exported 12,810.062 cubic meters of logs, according to FDA records.

In 2001, Merab told an American publication that LWMC shipped small Liberian timber to the United States. Oriental Timber Corporation (OTC), the forerunner of Taylor’s timber and arms trafficking syndicate, exported to the United States.

Between 1999 and 2003, LWMC owed the government over US$1.3 million, according to a report by the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI).  The Taylor regime waived the amount, according to an email thread linked to the Ministry of Finance. Then Minister of Finance Nathaniel Barnes told a legislative inquiry that the regime had waived Merab’s arrears “to save 300 jobs.”

Rebels of the Liberia United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), which had launched an armed incursion against Taylor, attacked LWMC’s premises in Gbarpolu in the 2000s.

The rebel told United Nations personnel they wanted to discourage Merab from doing business with Taylor, according to a 2001 UN Security Council report. The UN would sanction Liberian timber adding to a string of arms embargoes against the country.

A review of the forestry sector in 2005 found, “At least 17 logging companies either supported militias in Liberia, participated in, or facilitated illegal arms trafficking, or aided or abetted civil instability.”

The review found that all forestry concessions, including LWMC’s, had been illegally awarded. This prompted President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to cancel all the existing forestry contracts in 2006. Her administration awarded new contracts, a precursor for the lifting of the UN sanctions that same year.

At his war crimes trial in 2010, prosecutors at the Special Court for Sierra Leone cross-examined Taylor on an accusation that he channeled money through Merab to rebels in Sierra Leone. Taylor denied the accusation but was eventually found guilty of running arms and smuggling diamonds with the Sierra Leonean rebels. He is serving a 50-year sentence for his role in that war, which killed some 70,000 in Sierra Leone.   

An estimated 250,000 people died in Liberia in wars that were fueled by a scramble for logs and other natural resources, the TRC said. Unlike Sierra Leone, Liberia has yet to address crimes committed during its wars.

Merab’s Postwar Illegal Deeds

Bopolu Development Corporation (BODECO), another company Merab owns, was involved in the Private Use Permit (PUP) Scandal of 2012 in which 2.5 million hectares of forestlands were illegally awarded to logging companies.

A government-backed inquiry found that BODECO was awarded 90,527 hectares in Bopolu District, Gbarpolu County, the fifth-highest area of the 66 illegal permits.

Locals in Henry Town, a popular mining community were among several whose hopes were dashed by BODECO in the PUP Scandal. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

BODECO did not have the financial and technical capacity to conduct logging in Liberia, the inquiry found. The permit was issued in BODECO’s name while the Korninga Chiefdom had submitted the application.

BODECO and the FDA also violated requirements of the permit. The permit is issued only for forests on private lands. However, investigators found that Bopolu was communal land, not private.

“Both FDA and BODECO knew or should have known that they were executing a contract with material falsehood…,” investigators said.

Following the inquiry, BODECO’s and the other 65 permits were revoked and a moratorium imposed on the forest contract remains in place. Moses Wogbeh, the FDA Managing Director who oversaw the scandal, was dismissed and prosecuted.

BODECO failed to provide a school, roads, harvesting and land rental fees, and  a clinic, leaving hundreds of logs to rot.

George Ballah Sumo, the Paramount Chief of Korninga Chiefdom blamed Merab and other BODECO executives for dashing the hopes of locals.

A cynic of regulations and conservation

Wartime logging and the PUP Scandal aside, Merab is an outspoken critic of forestry regulatory regime and conservation. Forestry has the most regulations in Liberia, while the conservation is one of the pillars of the sector’s reform agenda. 

BODECO left hundreds of logs it harvested with its illegal private use permit (PUP) Gbarpolu County to decay. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Merab’s appointment comes at a time of rising violations of forestry laws and regulations. Illegal logging, unsustainable harvesting practices and disregard for communities’ rights are commonplace. A recent review of the sector found 11 concessions illegal and the FDA complicit in the illegalities.  

In a 2015 interview with the African Report, Merab said sustainable logging had not been achieved due to “taxation and restrictive legal regime.”  

“Since the new logging restrictions, most of the rural economy has ceased, impoverishing the rural areas,” Merab said in the interview.

Merab also criticized an deal between Liberia and Norway in which Liberia received US$150 million to halt deforestation. Merab argued that the agreement hurt investors, businesspeople, and logging employees. He promised to campaign against it on grounds that loggers were not consulted, comparing it to the Sirleaf administration’s decision to cancel his and other logging contracts back in 2006.

“We Africans got to think outside the box,” Merab, the president of the Liberia Timber Association up to his appointment, told FrontPage Africa in 2017.  “The neo-colonial issue cannot continue to affect us,” he said. “You got to learn to stop letting people fool us.  They’re the ones exploiting us, especially Norway.”


[Additional reporting by Charles Gbayor and Esau J. Farr, Sr.]

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

River Cess Community Seeks To Cancel Logging Contract

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Top: Logs EJ&J Logging Company abandoned in the Ziadue & Teekpeh Community Forest. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr


By Esau J. Farr


ZAMMIE TOWN – Villagers in River Cess County have made efforts to cancel a contract it has with a logging company over unpaid benefits and unfulfilled promises.

EJ&J Investment Corporation signed a 15-year contract with Ziadue & Teekpeh in 2018. However, five years after logging in the 24,649-hectare forest, the company has failed to live up to the agreement.

“The community said [it is] not willing to work with EJ&J again and therefore has decided to cancel its contract,” said Philip Tarweah, chief officer of Ziadue & Teekpeh’s community forest management body (CFMB).   

EJ&J owes the community more than US$72,000 for land rental, harvesting, scholarships and clinic support funds, according to our calculations as of November last year.

EJ&J failed to construct 16 handpumps and pit latrines each within major towns of the Kploh Chiefdom, where the forest lies. It also did not construct the two schools it promised the community.  

In the last three years, Ziadue & Teekpeh has made several failed attempts to get their benefits.

In a June 21, 2021 letter obtained by The DayLight, the community sought a meeting with the company the following month. However, EJ&J did not honor the invitation, according to the townspeople.

The parties finally met three months after and the company promised eight handpumps in five months but has not delivered for more than a year.

Stanley Whilzar, EJ&J’s general coordinator, blames his company’s failure on the coronavirus outbreak.

“When it comes to the pit latrines, the elementary schools…, when we entered the first and second years [it was] when we experienced the COVID-19,” Whilzard said. “We couldn’t lay our hands on those projects.”

Whilzar’s remarks are not backed by facts.

Records of the FDA show EJ & J, harvested 2,150 logs or 13,275 cubic meters of logs from 2020 to 2021, during the height of the pandemic.  

There is no evidence that EJ&J declared force majeure to suspend its operations and debts.  No logger company did.

‘…More logs in the forest’

The DayLight photographed several large piles of logs EJ&J abandoned in the forest for more than two years. The logs were scattered on both ends of the grassy road that leads to the community forest.

Abraham Wizard, a member of the leadership of Ziadue & Teekpeh Community Forest in River Cess. The DayLight/Carlucci Cooper

A former worker of the company, who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisal, pointed at several locations in the forest where he said logs were.  Villagers corroborated the ex-worker’s story.

“They have felled more logs into the forest, more than 10,000 logs. They are just wasting there,” said Abraham Wizard, a forest leader in Ziadue & Teekpeh.

EJ&J production records appear to support Wizard and other townspeople’s comments. Not one of the 2,150 logs it harvested during COVID-19 has been exported, the records show.

“We have been informing the company and FDA but they are not doing anything about it,” Wizard added.

The FDA did not respond to queries on the issue. However, the agency announced last November it would begin the process of auctioning abandoned logs across the country. It had made that pronouncement at least two times in the past and failed to take any concrete actions.

The FDA shares the blame for what has happened with Ziadue & Teekpeh.

FDA ignored the recommendations of a government-backed report in 2012 by approving EJ&J’s contract with Ziadue & Teekpeh.

Investigators of the Private Use Permit (PUP) Scandal had asked the FDA to set up a panel to assess EJ&J’s financial and logistical capacities before awarding it future contracts.  

Investigators uncovered that Eliza Kronyanh, EJ&J’s owner, did not have the financial means to operate independently. They gathered evidence that her company signed contracts only to subcontract to other companies, exploiting locals.  


[Additional reporting by Aaron Geezay in River Cess]

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

Forestry Companies Not Compliant with Sector Laws, Report Finds

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Top: Eleven contract holders studied in a recent review are not compliant with the laws and regulations of  Liberia’s forestry sector. The DayLight/Harry Browne


By Gabriel M. Dixon


Monrovia – A review of forest concessions has found logging companies and the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) violated the sector’s laws.

The report says none of the 11 logging concessions appraised was in good standing with sector laws. It says companies do not hold a forestry license, have a legal corporate identity, or post a performance bond. The review is a requirement under Liberia’s US$150 million agreement with Norway.

The report accuses the FDA of failing to ensure forestry is regulated and sustainably managed. 

The FDA could not tell which of more than 70 logging companies are active or have met all legal requirements, it says.   

The report, released recently,  was produced by Forest Trends, an international organization that focuses on conservation research.

Researchers say the FDA does not have an adequate recordkeeping system to track legal compliance. Researchers had to get information from elsewhere to gather their findings.

The report also focuses on local communities’ benefits from their forests. It says forest people have received only US$3 million for an expected US$21 million in the last 15 years. Most social agreements between logging companies and community forests are not been met due to several reasons, including the lack of oversight and ineffective management systems.

The report points out that the FDA broke its laws and compromised the goal of forestry reforms. It says the agency awarded contracts to unqualified companies and individuals, including those debarred for their participation in the Private Use Permit (PUP) Scandal.  

The PUP Scandal remains the biggest in forestry since the end of Liberia’s two timber-fueled civil wars, where over 2.5 million hectares of forestlands were illegally awarded.

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.  

7 Times the FDA Failed to Punish Illegal Loggers

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Top: The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has failed numerous times to punish forestry violators. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Ralitsa N. Massah


MONROVIA – On Monday, The DayLight published an investigation revealing the illegalities of a logging company named Delta Timber Corporation. The report shows how the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) approved Delta’s contract for a community forest in Sinoe despite a regulation disqualifying its owner, a well-documented wartime logger.

Apart from the illegal approval of Delta’s contract, the story also highlights how the FDA failed to penalize Delta for a string of unlawful activities—illegal logging, abandonment of logs, and prolonged indebtedness to local communities.

However, illegal operations are characteristic of the forestry sector and happen with impunity. Here are seven other times that cases of illegal logging have gone unpunished

Leaked Video Exposes FDA Ranger’s Illegal Logging Operations

In August last year, leaked videos and pictures exposed the illegal logging operation of Varney Marshall, a ranger of the Forestry Development Authority. The video shows an open field of more than a thousand timbers and exposed Marshall’s illegal logging operations, which led to his dismissal.  

Marshall was arrested and jailed in an unrelated case—and has not been indicted—but has faced no punishment for his illegal logging operation. He is a candidate for the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) in District Two, Bomi County. He has not been sued for economic sabotage, the crime when an FDA staff conducts commercial logging activities.

FDA Fails To Punish Firm For Chain Of Illegal Logging

The Masayaha Logging Company used illegal deals with locals and harvested about 641 cubic meters of expensive, ironwood out of the Worr Community Forest in Grand Bassa, its contract area. The forest covers 35,337 hectares in Compound Number One “B” but the company traveled about 100 kilometers to the Doe Clan in Compound Number One “A” to harvest first-class logs. Harvesting out of contract area is a grave violation in forestry yet the company received no known penalty.  

Company Cuts About US$2M Logs Outside Concession

Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Limited illegally harvested probably 5,693 logs or 32,576 cubic meters of logs in the Bluyeama Community Forest in the Zorzor District on Lofa’s border with Gbarpolu. The harvest took place in a part of the forest not included in its contract with the community.  It is worth an estimated US$2.2 million. The company was also involved in the unlawful transportation of logs, a violation of the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products

Akewa: The Nigerian Company Breaking Liberia’s Logging Laws Unpunished

Akewa Group of Companies, a Nigerian-owned logging company, has repeatedly broken Liberian forestry laws for over a decade. The company has carried on illegal logging in Grand Bassa, Margibi, and Grand Cape Mount.

Akewa even used a fake tax clearance to bid for 49,179 hectares of the Gola Konneh Forest and won the bid. That constituted forgery and perjury, both serious crimes, punishable under Liberia’s forestry law and Penal Code. One of its shareholders established a new company and has a logging contract in Sinoe County, another forestry violation.

Except for a US$1,000 fine, Akewa has not been punished in line with the gravity of its offenses.

Rotten logs at the Port of Greenville, Sinoe County, owned by Delta Timber Corporation (DTC). The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Minister Breaks Laws With Shares In Mining and Logging Company

Cllr. Cooper Kruah held on to his five percent shares in Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC), a company actively mining and logging in Nimba, while he served as Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.  That is a violation of the laws governing the mining and logging industries as well as the Liberian Constitution and the Code of Conduct for Public Officials.

The FDA breached the Regulation on Bidder Qualifications by approving UFC’s contract with Kruah as one of the company shareholders. It failed to take any actions against the company after its illegalities were unearthed. It remained that way until Kruah was dismissed in March in an unrelated incident.  

Deputy Foreign Minister Runs An Illegal Logging Company

Tetra Enterprise Inc. is a logging company run and likely owned by Thelma Comfort Duncan Sawyer, the Deputy Foreign Minister for Administration, according to letters and her lawyer. That violates the Liberian Constitution, the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and the National Forestry Reform Law.

Tetra has bearer shares that are held by an unregistered individual, which Liberia’s Business Association Law prohibits. The Company has abandoned 28,039.6 cubic meters of logs and, as of March, it owed locals US$70,574.93.

The company began work in Garwin in the absence of a new agreement, which is against the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands that created community forestry.  

Another Company Illegally Cuts 550 Logs in River Cess

The African Wood & Lumber Company illegally harvested 550 logs in the Gbarsaw and Dorbor Community Forest, a violation of the National Forestry Reform Law and the Code of Harvesting Practices. The company had signed a five-year agreement with Gbarsaw & Dorbor Community Forest in 2019 but did not obtain the FDA’s approval to harvest logs. The offense warrants a range of penalties, including a prison term, a fine and cancelation of the company’s contract.


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

Inside A Problematic Carbon Deal in River Cess

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Top: A graphic depicting BlueEarth Capital’s CEO Augustine Jarrett and townsmen of Ziadue Clan.  The DayLight /Rebazar Forte


By Esau J. Farr        


  • BlueEarth Capital, a company seeking a carbon contract with Ziadue Clan, River Cess, gave locals money ahead of an agreement, undermining villagers’ right to free, prior and informed consent.  
  • The proposed agreement targets over 55,000 hectares of forest, more than Ziadue’s uncontracted forest area
  • Liberia has no laws or policies for carbon trading, and the duration of the proposed deal is not backed by existing laws
  • Many townspeople The DayLight interviewed said they were not aware of a proposed contract with the company, another red flag.
  • Locals expressed concern over BlueEarth’s lack of expertise in the emerging carbon credit market and are uncertain about their fair share of benefits

ZIADUE CLAN – The ongoing negotiation between the Liberian government and the UAE-based Blue Carbon would affect parts of River Cess. But a community in the southcentral county is negotiating its own carbon agreement with another company—and under similar controversial circumstances.

Ziadue, located in the Central River Cess District, is negotiating a carbon credit memorandum of understanding (MoU) with BlueEarth Capital, an American-owned company. The parties had earlier signed a letter of intent. The company wants to harvest carbon from over 52,000 hectares of forest and trade the carbon credits it obtains on the international carbon market.

But BlueEarth Capital has been providing food and transportation fares for community leaders reviewing the agreement, according to the company itself and townspeople. Recently, the company gave the community cash for the same purpose.

“We hosted a meeting to view this thing (draft agreement) that they brought here… So, they sponsored the meeting that time,” said Emmanuel Roberts, the chairman of the Ziadue’s community land development and management committee. Under the Land Rights Act, the CLDMC, which comprises locals from towns and villages, represents customary communities in land matters.

Roberts claimed that BlueEarth provided about L$25,000 for a recent meeting in a town called Gbardiah he used to buy food and reimbursed attendees’ transportation fares.  

Friday Wesseh, the treasurer of the CLDMC, told The DayLight Roberts informed him that BlueEarth had sent him US$10 but had yet to receive it. Roberts denied that claim, saying he had only promised Wesseh on his own accord.

“Even though Wesseh did not attend the meeting in Gbardiah, being a CLDMC leader, I decided to give him something from my pocket,” Roberts told The DayLight in a phone interview.

BlueEarth’s payments to local has undermined the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), a right granted to rural people in the Land Rights Act and the Community Rights Law… The word “free” in FPIC means void of intimidation, coercion or manipulation.

Augustine Jarrett, BlueEarth’s sole owner said the payments were not meant to influence villagers. Jarrett said the payments were part of a tradition for people seeking to work with communities.

“We did facilitate bringing people to areas… We don’t expect them to come with their lunches…,” Jarrett told The DayLight in an interview at his Tweh Farm office outside Monrovia. “We are not attempting to induce anybody to do anything they are unwilling to do.”

Emmanuel M. Roberts, Ziadue’s CLDMC Chairperson. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

But Jarrett’s claims are not backed by facts. Companies underwrite expenses for communities’ meetings It is true in forestry. However, that happens in cases where such payments are captured in an existing agreement, and not an FPIC engagement.  

BlueEarth’s proposed MoU also flouts the FPIC standards in other ways. Ziadue and BlueEarth have been negotiating the deal since February but many townspeople said they were unaware of it. Only three out of 40 CLDMC members had signed the letter of intent, the document shows.

“That’s my first time hearing about it,” said Patience Smith a member of the CLDMC.

“The one I know about is… [the logging company],” added Betty Gaywea, a women leader. She was referencing EJ&J Logging Company which works in Ziadue.

In order for a community to give its consent, all of its representatives must have their say through a transparent process. That is according to the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Liberia has ratified, and Liberia’s own FPIC Policy.  

Jarrett claimed his company respected FPIC and would get the community’s general consent in time. He wrongly claimed that FPIC “continues over the entire life of the project.” Actually, FPIC must occur prior to the approval or commencement of a project, according to the United Nations. 

‘Not a forestry company’

BlueEarth eyes a 25-year contract with Ziadue, subject to a 10-year review. Those timeframes go against the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands. The law sets a 15-year ceiling for community forest-related contracts, with a five-year review period.

BlueEarth seeks over 55,000 hectares of forest in Ziadue, River Cess, which the clan does not have. The DayLight/Carlucci Cooper
 

Jarrett said BlueEarth’s proposed MoU was not a forestry contract, so, 15 years was not attractive enough for investors.

“How can I ask a person to invest in Liberia’s forest conservation if we can’t guarantee that we are going to conserve the forest over the next… 30 years?” Jarrett said. 

“We are not regulated under the forestry law, we are not a forest company and we are not going to extract forestry assets,” he added.

Those points are largely misleading. While Liberia does not have any specific legal framework on carbon credits, the emerging industry is more related to forestry than other sectors. The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) is playing a key role in the negotiation between Liberia and the UAE-based Blue Carbon. The FDA has also added carbon credits to its communities, conservation and commercial pillars.  Liberia’s first-known carbon negotiation about 15 years ago targeted 400,000 hectares, the maximum under the National Forestry Reform Law.

The size of the forest is another issue. BlueEarth’s MoU targets 55,123 hectares of forestland but Ziadue does not have such land area to lease. Ziadue’s uncontracted forest covers only 47,000 hectares, according to BlueEarth. That is 8,000 hectares less than BlueEarth’s target.

Moreover, that 47,000 hectares is questionable. Blatoe, a town arguably in Ziadue across the Cestos River, has a boundary issue with a town in the neighboring Beaworn Clan. That problem has stalled Ziadue’s quest to acquire its ancestral deed, a journey the clan started in 2020.  (Under the Land Rights Act, a community must resolve its border issues before the government surveys its lands and gives its deed)

A collage of BlueEarth’s map (left) and the Sustainable Development Institute’s map of Ziadue  

Early last month, monitors of the Liberia Land Authority (LLA) found Ziadue was unready for an official survey, a requirement for the issuance of the document. This week, the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), which is assisting with Ziadue in getting its deed, told The DayLight that the Blatoe issue had been resolved. However, LLA did not confirm the information.

Jarrett declined to comment on that matter.

‘Think carefully’

Locals have consulted SDI on the proposed MoU.

“We are waiting on our consultants for advice before we accept or reject BlueEarth,” said Samuel Morris, a member of Ziadue’s CLDMC. “For me, I am not yet encouraged whether BlueEarth is a good company or not because I do not know anything about carbon.”

Elijah Garsuah, the acting clan chief of Ziadue, even feared BlueEarth Capital would end up like EJ&J Logging Company. The firm contracted a portion of the forest Ziadue shares with its neighbor, the Ziadue and Teekpeh Community Forest in 2018 and did not live up to the agreement. In fact, the leadership of the community forest has resolved to cancel its agreement.

Under the MoU, BlueEarth will pay land rental fees of US$82,684 for a one-year feasibility study at US$1.50 per hectare.

After that period, the company will pay Ziadue 10 percent of the total sales of carbon credits on the voluntary carbon market, according to the document. Companies trade carbon credits to other companies that want to offset their carbon emissions on the voluntary carbon market.  

Critics say Liberia does not have the expertise and laws to regulate such a complex industry.

Elijah Garsuah, Acting Clan Chief of Ziadue. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

BlueEarth was founded in February last year, with Jarrett as its sole American owner, according to the company’s article of incorporation. Jarrett was the chief finance officer of Liberia Wood Industry, a parent company of International Consultant Capital (ICC), which holds a logging contract for forest in River Cess and Nimba. However, he does not have any experience in carbon trading.

SDI said it was analyzing the proposed MoU and had observed that the proposed 10 percent share for Ziadue from potentially generated revenue from the carbon project in the agreement is not fair to the community.

“We advise the community to think carefully before signing this deal,” said Nora Bowier, the coordinator of SDI’s land rights program.

“We know that development opportunities are crucial for these communities but proper due diligence is necessary to ensure that communities do not make the same mistakes of the past by signing agreements with companies that had no capacity to deliver.”


[Aaron Geezay contributed to this report]

  

Alleged Bribery, Fraud and Arrest: Liberia’s First Carbon Deal 

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Top: Carbon Harvesting Corporation (CHC) proposed a carbon credit deal for 400,000 hectares of forest in River Cess that would have left Liberia US$2.2 billion poorer. The DayLight/Derick Snyder


By James Harding Giahyue


MONROVIA – Many would believe that the current negotiation between the Liberian government and Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates is Liberia’s first attempt at a carbon credit deal.

Well, that is not true. Liberia’s first carbon trading discussions occurred more than one-and-a-half decades ago with a Carbon Harvesting Corporation (CHC), based in the United Kingdom, and worth US$2.2 billion.

The CHC deal went on to become one the biggest scandals of the administration of then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. It sparked cross-border investigations, with Monrovia requesting London to extradite a British businessman involved.

Liberian investigators found officials connived to grant CHC the carbon concession without any bidding. Evidence showed that Liberia would have lost millions of dollars, the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) board of directors and violated Liberian procurement law.

The CHC cross-border scandal had all the ingredients of a crime story: fraud, bribery, other violations of Liberia’s concession-related laws, and even plagiarism of an American study.

The four-year criminal activities ended with the arrest of the British businessman, a presidential pronouncement for the prosecution, reprimand and dismissal of the officials involved, and the impeachment of the senator.

From a carwash to the Office of the President

In 2007 about this time of the year, George Antwi, a Ghanaian, approached then River Cess senator Jonathan Banney about a carbon trading investment in the county. Antwi had been hired by Michael Foster, the owner of Carbon Harvesting Corporation (CHC), a firm based in Liverpool.

The deal appeared simple to Banney: CHC wanted to sequester carbon on 400,000 hectares of forestland in the southcentral county, obtain carbon credits and then sell them on carbon markets to companies wanting to offset their own carbon emissions. It would take eight years for the world to adopt carbon offsetting as a way to combat climate change at the Paris Climate Summit. However, experts, some in Liberia, were setting the pace for the global carbon trading market, a process still being done today.

Banney bought Antwi’s proposal right away.

“[Antwi] informed Mr. Foster about my eagerness of wanting investment to go to River Cess,” Banney would later tell investigators.

“Thereafter, I got an email. I informed the President about this investment proposal and that I wanted to extend [an] invitation to the investors. She agreed,” Banney would add.

In December of that year, Banney arranged a meeting between President Sirleaf and CHC represented by Foster, Antwi and other members of the company.

Things moved with lightning speed thereafter. By July 2008, there were meetings with the President and John Woods, the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) at the time. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the chiefs and elders of Yarnee District, River Cess had been signed and Banney paid the FDA approximately US$15,000 for a biomass study.

Then in July 2008, CHC presented its proposal to the Liberian government to sell carbon credits on the unregulated and unverified carbon market at the rate of US$4 per tonne. It claimed that it had to trade below the international estimate of up to US$15 per tonne because Liberia’s rainforest was not recognized by the Kyoto Protocol, the UN operational mechanism for reducing carbon emissions.

That was followed by an analysis cost and benefits of its investment CHC claimed to have done, which found Liberia would benefit more from carbon credits than from commercial logging.

UK Police Arrests Foster

Then in February 2009, Woods informed the board of directors of the FDA and asked for the Public Procurement Concession and Commission (PPCC) for the CHC contract to be single-sourced, which was granted in December that year.

It was Woods’ efforts to get the green light from the Inter-ministerial Concession Committee (IMCC) that coincided with the demise of the CHC deal.

The Chairman of the National Investment Commission Dr. Richard Tolbert question the legality of the FDA negotiating the CHC instead of the IMCC. Tolbert suggested that the CHC proposals be sent to all members of the IMCC, including the Ministry of Justice and Finance. “I assume that the IMCC, constituted by the President for forest management contracts is the same body to act on this matter,” Tolbert said in a letter to Woods in early 2010.  

Michael Foster faced extradition from the United Kingdom to Liberia between 2010 and 2015 for alleged bribery, fraud and criminal conspiracy over a carbon credit deal. Picture credit: Liverpool Echo

Tolbert’s communications on the CHC deal continued until President Sirleaf requested him to constitute an IMCC negotiation of the CHC deal.

But it did not happen. In June that year, police in London arrested Foster for allegedly paying a bribe to seal the deal. The U.K.-based Global Witness, investigating the deal for two years, had told police Foster referenced an alleged US$2.5 million payment when they interviewed him.

It emerged that the company had calculated that Liberia would save 423 tonnes of carbon emissions in each hectare of the River Cess 400,000 hectares of forest. That meant 162 million carbon credits to Liberia, the Guardian of the U.K. reported.

But it emerged Liberia risked losing over US$2 billion if the CHC deal had gone on.  Thomas Downing, an expert with the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Programme (GEMAP), told the Guardian he had advised the FDA against it. 

Downing said the carbon credit figures were “unreasonably high” and had “no commercial value” for Liberia. GEMAP was created by Liberia and the international community to help combat corruption after the country’s civil wars.

“I had understood that the Carbon Harvesting proposal had been definitively rejected. Thus, I was surprised to hear that it still enjoyed some support,” Downing said.

“The proposal, if adopted, would be quite damaging to the FDA. Indeed, it could cost [Liberia] hundreds of millions of dollars,” he added.

Liberia investigates the CHC deal

Back in Liberia, hell broke loose. President Sirleaf set up an official inquest into the CHC scandal. The head of the CHC Investigation Committee was Cllr. Negbalee Warner, the future dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia. Future deputy police chief Rose Stryker and one William Massaquoi completed the team.

“The President’s communication to the committee suggested that certain procedural requirements relative to the granting of such [a] concession might not have been followed,” Warner told the Guardian at the time. “For example, the proposal was recommended to the inter-ministerial committee without any open competitive bidding process.” 

In roughly four months, Warner’s committee was back with its findings. It interviewed 19 people and institutions, including forest watchdog Global Witness and the United Nations Panel of Experts.

The committee recommended Banney be impeached as senator for abusing his legislative functions and bribery. CHC paid Banney over US$20,000 for arranging a meeting with President Sirleaf, getting River Cess communities’ consent for the project, running errands and pressuring the FDA and other entities to grant the concession.

Minister of Internal Affairs Ambulai Johnson was recommended to face prosecution for allegedly soliciting a US$2 million bribe from CHC. The committee heard the company asked him for help when it faced “obstacles” from other officials.

The committee recommended the dismissal of the Executive Director of the PPCC Peggy Meres. She allegedly influenced the procurement process through which CHC, a gaming company until now, single-sourced the concession.

The committee asked that Augustine Johnson, the agency’s geoinformation service manager, and Joseph Neufville, an adviser at the PPCC, be dismissed immediately. It found the duo allegedly solicited and accepted bribes and committed a procurement offense.

Woods, who was now replaced at the FDA over his poor health, was asked to be reprimanded over his alleged role in the scandal. “The MD has been paid and is on our side as he is dependent on us in the future,” the investigation found CHC officials bragged among themselves.

The committee also found that Woods had allegedly ignored the pieces of advice from Downing and Silas Siakor, the executive director of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), and others.

The Carbon Harvesting Corporation deal plagiarized a study from the United States Forest Service estimating that it would capture 423 carbon credits in one hectare of tropical rainforest in Liberia. It was exposed following an investigation by a special presidential committee headed by Cllr. Negbalee Warner. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Downing’s case was more startling. The committee found that he had informed Woods that CHC’s so-called cost and benefit analysis was plagiarized from the United States Forest Service’s study on a California rainforest. Downing shared copies of the plagiarized study with Woods severally and both men even viewed the two documents.

Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs Amara Konneh was reprimanded for issuing CHC a concession certificate in breach of the procurement law. Konneh denied any wrongdoing, saying the report was politically motivated.

The committee recommended Foster and Antwi face the law in Liberia for alleged fraud, bribery and criminal conspiracy. Both men denied the allegations.

President Sirleaf agreed with the committee’s recommendation and took the actions it had suggested. She called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to request the extradition of Foster and announced additional restrictions on presidential visits.

But President Sirleaf later rescinded her decision against the Liberian officials. About a month later, she dismissed her entire cabinet, except for one minister.

Foster extradition case lingered until 2015 when police dropped all charges against him. U.K. police said they could not obtain evidence in key areas of their investigation.


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

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