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FDA Submits to Court’s Order to Allow Export of US$4M Illegal Logs

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Top: Some of the illegally harvested logs. Picture credit: Independent Forest Monitoring Coordination Mechanism


By James Harding Giahyue


BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa County – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has accepted a Supreme Court mandate to allow a company to export a huge consignment of logs it had illegally harvested. It brings to a close more than one year of a legal battle that has shed light on widespread irregularities in Liberia’s forestry sector.   

The Second Judicial Circuit Court in Upper Buchanan had issued an arrest warrant for officials of the FDA after it failed to adhere to the high court’s decision to uphold the lower court’s ruling in favor of Renaissance Inc. The firm had sued the FDA after the agency seized some 14,000 cubic meters of logs valued at an estimated US$4.17 million.

Sheriffs last week arrested Atty. Gertrude Nyaley, the technical manager of FDA’s legality verification department (LVD), which manages the system that tracks logs harvested and exported out of Liberia. Nyaley was later released on bail by her lawyers, with the agency scheduled to appear before the lower court on Monday, according to court filings.

At the proceedings on Monday, Cllr. Abraham Sillah, the head of the FDA legal team, asked the court for 10 days for the export to happen. The court granted that petition, fining Nyaley, Harrison Karnwea, the chairman of its board of directors, Managing Director Mike Doryen and his two deputies, US$300 each. It also fined Cllr. Yanquoi Dolo, FDA in-house lawyer, US$100. It said it would jail officials of the agency if the logs were not shipped by that time.

“No department of the government other than the Judiciary shall exercise judicial function,” Judge Peabody said, according to court documents. “The [actions] of the Forestry Development Authority and its managers are usurping the functions and have interfered with and is an act of reviewing the judgment of the Supreme Court and this court.”     

The court also accepted the FDA’s request not to export the controversial logs through the tracking system called LiberTrace. The computerized system uses barcodes to trace timber from its sources to its final destinations. It is an integral part of Liberia’s forestry reform agenda, a foothold of the country’s trade agreement with the European Union, called the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA).

“I am happy that the law is about to take its course,” said Aaron George, Renaissance’s CEO in a mobile phone interview.

Renaissance won the case after the court upheld a six-man jury unanimous verdict to allow Renaissance to export the logs. The court agreed with the company that disallowing its logs from being shipped having already paid a US$105,000 fine would have amounted to a double punishment or double jeopardy. It is a defense in Liberian law that prevents a person from being tried again for the same offense.    

After that verdict, the FDA filed an appeal at the Supreme Court, which was followed by a Renaissance motion for dismissal. The FDA did not respond to that petition, leaving the high court to dismiss the appeal.

“The agencies of the government of Liberia, though exempted from filling an appeal bond, they are required to strictly abide by the other mandatory steps enumerated in the appeal statute for the completion of an appeal,” the Supreme Court said in the ruling on November 4 last year.

Renaissance Inc. harvested the logs outside its concession area known in the logging industry as timber scale contract area two or TSC A2, located in Compound Number Two, Grand Bassa County. Lacking a trace, FDA technicians found it impossible to register the wood into LiberTrace. Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS), a Swiss firm that co-manages the system, declined to enroll the timber, drawing the Supreme Court’s ire.

Monday’s decision is expected to anger more than a dozen international NGOs who called on the FDA to remain firm in its decision not to allow the logs to be exported. They come from the United States, European Union countries, the United Kingdom, and China three regions with a vested interest in Liberia’s forestry sector, investing millions.

“We are encouraged by the FDA taking action to stop illegally sourced timber being exported, and strongly support its staffs’ actions,” the organizations said in a joint statement on Sunday.

“We are extremely disturbed that the Liberian courts, instigated by logging company Renaissance, seem intent to punish FDA staff for doing their duty,” the statement added.

In 2021, an investigation by a group of civil society organizations found that Renaissance Inc. had harvested the logs under the pretext that it was paving a road in that area. It said all the logs were ekki wood (Lophira alata), first-class redwood currently selling for US$298 on the international market.

Two years before that, Société Française de Réalisation, d’Etudes et de Conseil (SOFRECO), a European Union-commissioned auditor based in Paris, urged the Ministry to investigate TSC A2.

This map shows the boundary of TSC-A2 and where Renaissance cut down the trees. Picture credit: Independent Forest Monitoring Coordination Mechanism

“The mere fact that an operator took the risks of felling such an important volume of logs illegally provides a high probability that the operator was confident in the possibility to export the illegal logs, which raises questions for further consideration,” SOFRECO said in a November 2019 letter to major players in the forestry sector.

The ministry investigated the illegal harvesting but has not published its report for over three years on. The international NGOs called on the ministry to release the document.

“We call upon the Government of Liberia to follow the law, publish the official investigation report by the Ministry of Justice into the Renaissance case, and use the evidence provided in this report, to guide their decisions,” the group said.

Minister of Justice  Cllr. Musa Dean told The DayLight “Findings [of the report] were released to the appropriate agency and all concerned.”

In March last year, the FDA canceled TSC A2 and six others in Bassa, Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu and Bong after they outstayed their legal lifespan. Communities affected by TSC A2 and the other concessions have not received their benefits.

Businesswoman Vows to Stop Illegal Logging But Still Faces the Law

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Top: Timber illegally harvested by Binta Bility in a forest in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Emmanuel Sherman

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series that exposes illegal logging operations conducted by a businesswoman.


COMPOUND NUMBER ONE, Grand Bassa County – Binta Bility, a businesswoman whose illegal logging activities were first exposed two months ago, has promised to work in the confines of forestry laws and regulations. But it may not be that easy, as she has to account for the wrongdoing she has committed.   

Bility has been producing timber for months in Bassa. Last month, her consignment of 79 illegal timber was seized by police in the Nimba town of Bahn. A ranger with the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) had noticed that the woods were oversized and stopped the transport.  

Bility had insisted she was doing the right thing, labeling The DayLight as “fronting to promote confusion and instability among forest-dependent communities” in the Analyst newspaper. However, in a complete turnaround, she has admitted that her activities are unlawful.

“From now on, I will do everything legally,” Bility told The DayLight in a WhatsApp interview about the woods seizure and her other illegal activities. “I don’t intend to do anything illegally.”

Just before the arrest in Bahn, Bility had continued with her illegal activities.  She had sealed a deal with villagers in Teemor, Grand Bassa, not far from the site of her initial operations in Compound Number One. She signed an agreement with locals to harvest 500 pieces of boxlike timber, commonly called “Kpokolo” in exchange for L$45,000. Three hundred has already been produced, with a thickness of nearly five and a half and eight inches, and seven feet long.  

In a one-sided article in the Analyst newspaper over a month after the investigation, Bility claimed The DayLight was misleading the public and accused the online newspaper of instigating confusion in forest-dependent communities. She, however, offered no proof to back that accusation. “My pit-sawing activity, which is far from logging activities, continues to bring relief to rural dwellers,” she said in the article at the time.

Binta Bility has vowed to discontinue her illegal logging activities but has to face the law. Photo credit: Facebook/Binta Bility

But those claims were wrong because pit-sawn or chainsaw-milled woods are different from the ones Bility produced. She initially lied that she was not the person harvesting timber in that area but somersaulted after the publication profoundly proved it was her. Fondly called “Mammie” by locals, she had worked there as a chainsaw miller for several years before shifting to kpokolo earlier this year. Under the Chainsaw Milling Regulation, planks must be at most two inches thick, 12 inches wide and 14 feet long. The thicknesses of the Kpokolo she produces are two and four times the legal size for planks. It sometimes takes an entire football team to lift them. The regulation was introduced to bring chainsaw milling on par with the best forestry practices, including sustainability, legality and community benefits.

“I will resize all those woods to two inches,” Bility said, blaming her previous activities and previous comments on the lack of awareness of the regulations. “We have already started resizing them.” She then provided a photograph of two young men milling two-inch planks in a forest, she said, in Grand Bassa.  

While Bility’s pledge may be good, it does not matter to the woods in the hands of the police in Nimba. Retrieving the timber will take a court order, according to the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products.

Yanquoi Dolo, the head of the FDA legal team, said the police were investigating Bility’s operations in Nimba. “The wood there is important evidence,”  Dolo told The DayLight.   

Size aside, the source of Bility’s timber in Grand Bassa also renders them illegal, a graver offense. The woodland where they were harvested falls within the Worr Community Forest. Covering 35,337 hectares, the forest is contracted to Magna Logging Corporation. Magna transferred its right to operate the forest to Masayaha Logging Company, a Lebanese firm, more than three years ago.

The townspeople interviewed said they told Bility about this situation but both parties forged ahead with their deal. While Bility saw Teemor as an opportunity to extend her logging activities, local chiefs and elders took advantage of the situation for their own benefit.

Masayaha has failed to build or repair roads, schools and clinics, and it owes locals land rental, log-harvesting and scholarships fees. Apart from that, the community does not know about Masayaha’s takeover of their agreement with Magna, a violation of the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands. Masayaha has cut logs outside the forest, even though it abandoned a good number of the ones it felled in the community forest. Brewing tension led to a protest in October.

“The company let us down and we don’t know what to do. So, we are just trying to find means,” said Daniel Goee, assistant town chief of Norr Town, where the timber was illegally harvested.  

“We want to use the percentage to maintain our road ourselves,” added Teleco Lincoln, a spokesman for the youth in that area.

Timbers illegally harvested by Binta Bility are seen piled up in a town in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Morley kamara, Magna’s owner and CEO, did not return queries emailed to him. Despite being mandated by law to grant public access to logging information, Kamara had asked The DayLight not to contact him anymore following our series on his company and Masayaha’s unlawful deals.

Bility denies being told of the Magna-Masayaha agreement and insists “I am not working in any company’s forest.”

But there is no justification for an illegal deal in forestry, and whether or not Bility was aware of Masayaha’s complicated agreement does not undo the harm already done. Harvesting in another company’s contract is prohibited, and Bility faces a fine, a six-month prison term, or both a fine and imprisonment under the confiscated timber regulation. Her punishment could be a US$25,000 fine and a year of imprisonment, according to the National Forestry Reform Law.  

Yei Neagor, the FDA regional officer responsible for Grand Bassa, Nimba and River Cess, declined to comment on the matter.  Neagor, who helped expose a firm’s illegal logging activities in River Cess and was promoted to her current position shortly after that, had investigated Bility’s initial operations in Compound Number One but no actions have been taken against the businesswoman.  

Dolo, the FDA’s lawyer, said the FDA was investigating Bility’s operations in Bassa and would make a statement on Friday.

Two men mill planks in a forest in this photo shared by Binta Bility as proof that she has stopped producing boxlike timber, commonly called “Kpokolo.”

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

Lebanese Company Has No Right to Log In Grand Bassa

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Top: A Masayaha container at its log yard in Bokay Town, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By James Harding Giahyue

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth part of a series on a string of illegal activities by Masayaha Logging Company, which operates in Grand Bassa County.


SAUL TOWN, Grand Bassa County – Within the last three years, Lebanese logging firm Masayaha Limited Liability Corporation has harvested logs outside the Worr Community Forest in Compound Number One. An investigation by The DayLight uncovered the company has not been punished for those illegal activities and its abandonment of some 600 logs.

But the fact that the Masayaha does not have any legal rights to cut down a single tree in the Worr Community Forest remained unnoticed or unreported—until now.  

Interviews with members of the leadership of the community show they are unaware of how Masayaha ended up in their forest. Magna Logging Corporation Inc., a company owned by Liberian businessman Morley Kamara, had signed an agreement with locals in August 2019 but gave way for Masayaha that same year in a secret deal.

“Masayaha and Magna agreement, we are not part of it. We don’t know how they went through their agreement,” said Alvin Fiske, the head of the Worr Community Forest’s leadership. “We expected every agreement we made with Magna be turned over.” 

Fiske’s comments were corroborated by Garsayweh Harris, who advises Worr’s leadership.

The transfer from Magna to Masayaha was illegal and remains so. The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) must approve a transfer of license from one company to another, according to the National Forestry Reform Law, and the community ought to give its consent to such a deal under the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands (CRL).

“Any decision, agreement or activity affecting the status or use of community forest resources shall not proceed without the prior, free and informed consent of the said community,” the CRL says in section 2.2, one of its guiding principles. The law is a crucial part of postwar forestry reform, which empowers communities to co-manage their forests alongside the FDA.

In September, Magna’s CEO Morley Kamara admitted that Masayaha was the actual operator of Worr. “Magna is not the operator of Worr concession,” Kamara said in an emailed response to queries on Masayaha’s illegal logging activities. “Please direct your questions to the right party.”

Kamara declined to comment on the illegal transfer when contacted earlier this month. “I do not report to newspapers, including yours but to FDA and the community. Do not contact me for future articles as well.”

Masayaha has abandoned nearly 600 logs it harvested between 2020 and 2021, an analysis of the company’s production and export records show. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Masayaha’s owner and CEO Ali Harkous did not reply to the WhatsApp messages we sent to him.


Read more on Masayaha:


It was unclear whether the FDA approved Magna’s transfer of logging rights in Worr to Masayaha, as such a document should be signed by the community. However,  FDA is aware of Masayaha’s operations in the 35,337-hectare woodlands. The agency has sanctioned the Lebanese company’s production and export. And some official reports capture it, including the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI).

Illegal transfer of a forest resource license or part of it is a possible ground for termination of that license, according to the National Forestry Reform Law.

FDA’s Managing Director Mike Doryen and other top managers of the agency did not answer questions The DayLight posed to them via email. Doryen and co also did not grant our request for documents related to the two companies, public documents under forestry laws, regulations and Liberia’s Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union.

Magna’s illegal transfer to Masayaha the same year it signed the agreement with locals brings into question the company’s capacity to operate the contract area. In normal forestry practices, the FDA must make sure a  company seeking a logging contract has the financial and logistical ability.

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

Masayaha: Villagers Protest Against Firm for Forest Benefits

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Top: Masayaha’s camp in Saul Town, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman


By Emmanuel Sherman

Editor’s Note: This is the third part of a series on a string of illegal activities by Masayaha Logging Company, which operates in Grand Bassa County.


SAUL TOWN, Grand Bassa County – Villagers affected by the operations of Masayaha Logging Company in Compound Number One B have halted the Lebanese firm’s work, demanding it pays some of the benefits owed them.

Masayaha owes the 25 towns and villages affected by its operations for use of their land, logs it has harvested, and scholarships.  

“We will not allow any log to leave until they do what they supposed to do,” said Garsaweh Harris, the community leader who led the protest over the Worr Community Forest.  

“I told them, I have four big cows and they are there protecting the forest no one can go there,” Harris said, hinting at the use of bushmasters, commonplace in traditional settings.

Ali Harkous, Masayaha’s owner and CEO, did not return questions we posed to him via WhatsApp for comments on the matter.

Magna, the initial contract-holder signed a 15-year agreement with the Worr Community Forest, covering 33, 337 hectares in 2019. It seemingly subcontracted the forest to Masayaha. In total, it owes the villagers US$34,025.767, according to The DayLight’s analysis of the company’s official records, and the community’s leadership. Magna’s owner and CEO Morley Kamara declined to speak on Masayaha’s operations.  

The villagers demand payments of the fees and dozens of mandatory projects.

“We told the company that the scholarship issue was very important because the children are not in school,” said Alvin Fiske, the head of the community’s leadership. “Parents are coming to ask for their children’s tuition.”   

Masayaha has performed even worse with projects than it has defaulted on payments. It has failed to pave and build a number of roads and bridges, handpumps, clinics and schools in affected towns and villages.

“The company will make promises and will not do it, this is the problem we have with them,” Fiske said, adding the majority of the company’s projects have not been completed.

“They built… a school opposite their office, which is not completed. They built one handpump in Saul town and one in Bettoe Town and that is about all.”  

Logs Masayaha harvested from the Worr Community Forest. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

The agreement has been very controversial, with a string of illegal logging activities since. The FDA has failed to enforce forestry laws and regulations, approving the company’s harvesting each year.

Between 2020 and last year, Masayaha cut trees outside its contract area, according to the FDA and  Société Générale de Surveillance or SGS, a Swiss firm, which created Liberia’s log-tracking system. The DayLight interviewed chiefs and elders who helped the company illegally harvest ekki woods outside its contract area. We visited Masayaha’s illegal felling sites, with felled trees, leftover logs, and earthmovers’ trails still visible.

FDA permitted Masayaha to ship logs that could have included the stolen, ironwoods, export records show.  Between 2020 and last year, it exported  365 logs, 360 of them ekki woods.    

“We did not have a problem going outside but why use our name and we are not befitting anything from it? That is our problem,” says Fiske.

Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products provides that FDA should seek a court order to confiscate and auction the illegally harvested logs Masayaha cut outside its contract area. It should fine the company two times for the first offense, and four times for repeated offense, the prevailing international price of the volume of logs it harvested in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

While Masayaha cut trees outside its contract area, it abandoned 595 logs it felled within the area, according to our count of the company’s production and export records. We counted 200 logs in an open field near the Bokay Town market on the Monrovia-Buchanan highway.  

FDA has not taken any actions. The DayLight followed up at the Circuit Court in upper Buchanan, Grand Bassa, the county in which the illegal logging was done, the agency has not sought a court order to confiscate Masayaha’s illegally harvested logs.

Under the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products, logs are deserted if they are left unattended for between 15 to 180 working days, depending on their location.  FDA has also not acted, as there has been no petition at the circuit court in Buchanan nor announcement of abandoned logs at any radio station in the county, things the regulation demands.

Joseph Tally, FDA deputy managing director for operations, did not respond to questions sent to him via email on the protest action against Masayaha by the community.

Masayaha owes communities affected by its logging operations thousands of United States dollars. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

In Saul Town, the villagers halted Masayaha’s operations, stopping three trucks loaded with logs from being transported out of the community. It took a team of anti-riot police to end the daylong demonstration. 

This reporter visited the scene of the riot last Monday and met the protesters under a palaver hut discussing their next course. Some appeared disgruntled, raging with anger.

“They got so angry. Imagine I got a problem with my heart but I walk [a long] distance to join the protest,” said Sarah Harris, a resident of one of the affected towns.

The community and the company had a meeting on Wednesday but did not resolve the problem in full according to Harris.

Masayaha pleaded to transport its logs, promising to build five bridges, according to Harris, but he and the other protesters said they would only negotiate with the company after the construction.  

“We don’t have money to take the company to court,” said Harris. “This is the only power we have.”

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

‘Regular Caller’ Turns Illegal Logger

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Top: Othello Teah, “the regular caller” who has become an illegal logger. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By James Harding Giahyue

COMPOUND NUMBER TWO, Grand Bassa County – A  man who calls on nearly all talk shows in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, is involved in an illegal logging business with at least one villager and the proprietor of the port city’s most famous woodshops, an investigation by The DayLight has found.  

Othello Teah, the regular caller, produces timber, commonly called “kpokolo,” a form of illegal logging that is ravaging Liberia’s forests and undermining authorities’ quest to increase logging revenues.  

This reporter saw 25 pieces of thick, square woods by the roadside in Boyeah’s Town in Compound Number Two ripped by Teah. Joe Jarvis Boyeah, a villager who he hired, told The DayLight the deal was between Teah and an unnamed farmer.   

That information was corroborated by other townspeople we interviewed, including Joshua Gbar.

“The town doesn’t have a share in it,” Gbar said, adding that was the first of such operation in that area.  

Teah admitted he runs the operation without a permit and first conducted it in 2019. However, he argued that he did not need FDA’s approval to produce the timber, which he wrongly considered planks.     

“Any log that is placed in a dimension is pit-sawing. Two by two is a dimension. Two by five is a dimension. I know,” Teah, revered for his strong stance on issues in Grand Bassa’s radioland, said.

Some of the timbers Othello Teah illegally harvested in Boyeah Town, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Chanda Cole, Teah’s partner who is the proprietor of the Cole Joe Wood Work Shop in Buchanan—one of the oldest in the city—backs him. He said the timber was dahoma wood, a durable hardwood used in construction and boatbuilding.

“We don’t do permits from the government to buy and sell wood. We get a thing called business registration from [the Ministry] of Commerce,” Cole wrongly claimed. The ministry does not issue business certificates, the Liberia Business Registry does.

But apart from that, the operation of Teah and Cole violates forestry laws and regulations in several ways.

First, there is a difference between timber, which the pair is producing, and planks, which they falsely claim to be making, according to the Regulation on Establishing a Chain of Custody System. It sets the standard for sourcing, transporting, and exporting wood.  It defines “timber is a sawn wood or log,” while planks or lumbers are the “products” of pit-sawn or chain-sawn woods.   

Second, chainsaw millers are only permitted to produce planks, which are way lighter and smaller than the timber Teah had produced in Boyeah Town.

Third, chain-sawn woods can only be sourced from a concession area, authorized private forestland, and an approved community forest, not from an ordinary farmer.

And, in fact, chainsaw milling is illegal, as there is no current regulation for it after a previous one was dropped years back. It is being permitted to support construction works in Liberia since logging companies do not supply the local market. A regulation for the subsector has been drafted and is being reviewed by the Board of Directors of the FDA.  

Inconsistency

Both Teah and Cole contradicted themselves on why they are harvesting the timber in Boyeah Town.

When we initially phoned Teah, he claimed that the woods were meant for the construction of a bridge in Compound Number Three. That was exactly what Joe Jarvis Boyeah told us. Later in an interview, Teah flipped that he was supplying a company. But when quizzed further, he said he was actually supplying Cole’s woodshop. That was the first time in days of discussions that he mentioned he had a business partner other than the farmer and Boyeah.

Cole continued Teah’s inconsistency. Teah had called him to convince this reporter that their business was not illegal. He, too, first claimed that the woods were meant for a company.

“We use it on the bridge, we use it on the machine to balance on it to work,” Cole said in an interview at his workshop. But he somersaulted as the interview progressed, claiming they were meant for his shop. One of the practices in chainsaw milling is that the wood must be sawn into planks in the forest, not elsewhere.

“Don’t change anything here, it’s pit-sawing,” Cole said. “Anything from two-inch up is timber.”

This investigation comes less than two weeks after The DayLight exposed a similar illegal operation in the Compound Number One area, conducted by a woman named Binta Bility.  That report came after leaked videos and pictures of Varney Marshall, an FDA ranger showed he ran well-organized kpokolo operations, believed to be in Gbarpolu County.

Timbers that were illegally harvested in an operation conducted by Othello Teah, a “regular caller” in Grand Bassa. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Zahn Dehydugar contributed to this report.

The story was produced by the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists (CoFEJ).

FDA Fails To Punish Firm For Chain of Illegal Logging

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Top: A tree, locals said, was felled by Masayaha Logging Company outside the Worr Community Forest. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Emmanuel Sherman

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series on illegal logging activities by Masayaha Logging Company, which works in Grand Bassa County.

TARR TOWN, Grand Bassa County – Mid-last year, Masayaha Logging Company asked chiefs and elders of Doe Clan in Compound Number One to harvest expensive logs in their forest in order to build roads, handpumps and a townhall in that community. But the company wanted the deal kept a secret.

The villagers agreed with the terms, adding a fee of US$5 on each cubic meter of red hardwood used for railroad ties and bridges.

“We told them to connect the road from Tarr Town to Kpana Town because the people there are suffering,” recalled Daniel Tarr, one of the elders who brokered the deal. The next month, Masayaha begin felling some 641 cubic meters of the red ironwood, according to the locals’ record of the harvesting.   

“The company wanted some ekki [woods],” added Junior Gueh, a townsman who also works for the company and helped craft the deal.

But the deal was illegal, as the forest adjacent Tarr Town is outside the Worr Community Forest Masayaha legally operates. It is one among a string of illegal operations the Lebanese-own firm has run in that region in the last two years, involving five towns. It has been documented that Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has taken no required actions against the company.  

Masayaha has a 15-year agreement to operate the Worr Community Forest. Magna Logging Corporation, owned by Liberian businessman Moley Kamara, originally holds the contract for the forest but appears to have subcontracted it to Masayaha. 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. It said there were not many of that species trees in the Worr Community Forest, according to several villagers we interviewed.

An operator moves logs illegally harvested by Masayaha Logging Company in Garkpa Charlie Town, Grand Bassa County. Picture credit: Stephen Toomay

Mary Beeweh, an elderly woman in Zolah Town, told The DayLight the company harvested logs in the forest there in 2020. Beeweh said Ali Harkous, Masayaha’s CEO visited the town. Her description of a bald, bearded Lebanese man matches Harkous’ figure.   

Masayaha also felled an unspecified number of logs in Lolo Town last year, according to residents. We told them ‘If you fix our two bridges here, we will give you the logs [you] want,” said  Solomon Kpolon, an elder of that town. “The first was 17 logs but the second one they took it overnight we did not know about it.” This reporter saw some of the logs the villagers said Masayaha felled in the forest not far from the town.  

In Vorlorgor, a village next to Tarr Town, villagers seized the company’s machines after it felled 17 trees, according to John Garbleejay, an administrator of that town. They later allowed illicit activities to go on after the company promised to pave the main route that leads into the community, Garbleejay said.

Harvesting outside a contract area is a grave violation in forestry. A company’s penalties for such an offense include a fine in United States Dollars upon conviction by a court.  

There is evidence that the FDA has known of Masayaha’s illegal logging deals from its first known offense in 2020 but ignored them. The agency conducted an inquest in August that year on several logging violations in Grand Bassa, River Cess and Nimba, those of Masayaha. Investigators recommended an “appropriate action” against it but that has yet to happen.

And that, too, was not the first time the FDA heard about Masayaha’s violations and failed to act. Several months earlier in 2020, Reuben Barnie, one of the villagers, informed FDA about the incident. Barnie had spotted a Masayaha truck transporting logs from Kweezah, the home of the descendants of people who were evicted from the land Firestone occupies today. Knowledgeable of the company’s contract area, Barnie raised an alarm.



“We are calling your attention to please come in our district to carry on an investigation so as to stop future embarrassment,” Barnie wrote in a May letter last year. He took to a local radio station and engaged the company. He then followed up with numerous phone calls to Joseph Tally, FDA’s deputy managing director for operations, whose recordings Barnie gave to The DayLight.  

“Barnie how you doing?” Tally can be heard in one of the recordings.

“Yes, we still keeping our fingers crossed for the verdict,” Barnie responds, referencing a previous conversation in which Tally promised to take action against the company.

“Keeping your finger crossed for what?”

“For the verdict. The people went to do the investigation.”

“I told you we have already suspended the people activities.”  

Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS), a Switzerland-based firm that developed Liberia’s log-tracking system or LiberTrace, also reported the illegal operation. The development of the system was crucial to forestry reform, as importing countries such as the European Union and Great Britain demanded legal timbers. It is now turned over the majority of its responsibilities to the FDA’s legality verification department (LVD).  

A stump of the trees Masayaha illegally felled in not far from Lolo Town in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Like Barnie, Stephen Toomey, one of the residents of that area,   reported the case to the FDA. This reporter witnessed Toomay raise the issue in a Worr Community Forest meeting in October last year. Joseph Kpainay, an FDA ranger assigned in the region, then asked him to file an official complaint with the agency’s regional office in Buchanan. Toomay did it days after the meeting but got no response. Kpainay acknowledged receipt of Toomay’s letter.

“The concerned citizens of the affected communities are therefore calling on your good office to promptly investigate, intervene and promptly provide an appropriate solution…,” Toomay’s letter read.  

News of the illegal logging Masayaha carried out last year made it to FDA’s headquarters in Paynesville.  In August, the same month as the illegal felling, SGS reported on the incident.  

“During the month, some felling out of CFMA Worr concession was seen again !!!,” SGS said in a report. It also criticized the FDA for approving the company’s harvesting plan that year without a required five-year plan, a breach of the Code of Harvesting Practices and Standard Operation Procedure.

“Surely, because no action was taken from the felling out of concession at… Worr reported by SGS a year ago, that illegality is still going over there.”

But amid SGS’ report and Barnie’s advocacy, FDA permitted Masayaha to export logs that could have included the stolen woods. Between 2020 and last year, Masayaha exported  365 logs, 360 of them ekki woods, according to official shipment records. In fact, it approved three of the company’s shipments about the time of the Garkpa Charlie Town illegal logging, according to the SGS report.

In normal forestry practices, the FDA is supposed to trace every log the company harvests back to its stump to make sure the logs were legally sourced before they are transported.

Also amid the mountain of evidence against Masayaha, FDA should have sought court orders to confiscate and auction them. It should have also fined the company two times and four times the prevailing international price of the volume of logs it harvested in Kweezah and Garkpa Charlie Town, respectively, according to the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timbers and Timber Products. The current price set by the FDA  ekki woods is US$210. The company could have been slapped with a 12-month prison term if convicted by a court.

Two logs Masayaha illegally harvested in Garkpa Charlie Town in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Barnie called Tally, furious that the logs had made it out of the community and the company had not been fined for the violation. “Those logs are at the Port [of Buchanan] and are taken from where they have no concession. I’ve been calling some eight, nine months ago on the issue in Number One Compound. Now the people are carrying the logs,” Barnie can be heard in the recording, threatening to protest at the port to stop the shipment.

It was unclear how many logs Masayaha harvested in all its illegal operations. Neither SGS nor the FDA provided that information. However, the villagers’ records of last year’s felling seen by The DayLight put that number to 641 cubic meters. The elders had designated Mathew Gaywheon, a townsman, to represent them during the operation. If Masayaha had been convicted for its 2020 illegal harvesting and the one last year, it could have paid over half of the million United States dollars for a second offense.

There were signs of the operation in the area. We saw stumps of the felled trees. The elders of the town said a short piece of log lying adjacent to the palaver hut under which we conducted interviews was a remnant of the operation. A number of logs were still at the site of an open field, where villagers said Masayaha’s workers piled up the woods. Earthmovers’ trails adorned the site, despite a year of downpour.

The area matched the one in the pictures Toomay shared with us of the unlawful operation in Garkpa Charlie Town. One of the pictures shows a Masayaha vehicle parked next to the thatched kitchen where we conducted some of our interviews. Others reveal the company transporting some of the logs with official identification tags, indicating they had been registered into the FDA’s database.

The FDA did not grant The DayLight an interview on the matter. We emailed the agency earlier this month and received a response last week from Tally, who scheduled the interview for Tuesday. However, he did not turn out at the time of the interview he had set. Cllr. Yanquoi Dolo, the head of FDA’s legal department, declined to speak on the matter.  

Kamara, the CEO of Magna, also declined to speak on the matter.  

Harkous did not respond to queries sent him via WhatsApp for comments on his company’s illegalities.

Some of the elders of Tarr Town signed an illegal agreement with Masayaha Logging Company to illegally harvest logs in their community. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue  

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

Woman Runs Illegal Logging Operation

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Top: A pile of thick, square timbers, commonly called “Kpokolo” illegally harvested by Binta Bility. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By James Harding Giahyue

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series, which exposes an illegal logging operation.

COMPOUND NUMBER ONE, Grand Bassa County – Two hundred and sixty pieces of thick, square timbers lay by a roadside in Zoegar Town, one of 18 sections in the Doe Clan. Twenty-five more are scattered in the forest.

The woods were harvested in two former logging concessions in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa. They are the products of an illegal logging operation being conducted by a businesswoman named Binta Bility, an investigation by The DayLight found.

“The pile of [timber]… is for one Binta Bility,” said Volygar Garblah, the Chief Elder of that region. Garblah said she had asked to harvest red hardwoods in two former concession areas and he and other chiefs worked out a payment scheme with her.

“Sometimes the sticks are from two or three sections in Doe Clan.  When she went to Fubahn, the people charged her, from Kpelleh Town way they charged her also, and men were used to haul the timber from there,” Garblah said, adding Zoegar Town and Dumue Town were also involved in the illegal activities.     

The operation she runs is commonly called  “Kpokolo,” a new form of illegal logging across the country, which targets expensive hardwoods that are smuggled out of the country in containers. The woods are used for railroad tiles and bridges.

Bility denies any wrongdoing. But dozens of interviews with chiefs, elders motorcycle-taxi drivers, and the illicit loggers point to her.  

Felling trees without a permit or from an illegal source is a grave offense in forestry. She faces a huge fine and a prison term if convicted by a court.

‘My Daughter’

Bility started working in the Compound Number One area in 2020 with planks but decided to switch to timber last year, according to Garblah. He said he had known Bility since she helped him pay for his medical bill some time ago.

“She is my daughter. She said, ‘Please give me a place to pack my logs, and after that, I will come for us to talk,’” Garblah told The DayLight. After our talk, then, I later talked with the section people.” He said they did not have a written agreement with her.   

Binta Bility runs illegal logging operations in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa County. Picture credit: Facebook/Binta Bility

An orange and green 1996 MAN truck was parked at Gbarblah’s home with an improvised wheelbarrow, commonly called push-push in its trunk. Its license plate reads “C3742.”

“The car is for Binta but she left it with me,” Garblah said.

The forest where Bility operates was known in the logging industry as Timber Sale Contract Area Two and Timber Sale Contract Area Three. They were operated by Renaissance Group Incorporated and Akewa Group of Companies, respectively, before being canceled last year along with eight similar contracts following years of failure and illegitimacy.

Harrison Togbah, who identified himself as one of the forerunners of the illegal operation, said there were 17 workers, including some townsmen. He added that  Bility gave the team pictures of the hardwoods to cut and that they had worked for six months. 

“That’s the first consignment wasting outside there,” he said in reference to the woods on the road to Zoegar Town. “We made the arrangement that out of 200 pieces [of timber], she will be able to give me US$700.”

Togbah showed our reporters Bility’s mobile phone number he saved as “Boss Lady.” Togbah and Bility had communicated 36 times, according to Togbah’s call history. The number on his phone matched the one our reporters had used to contact her earlier on.

Massa Sawo, Togbah’s supervisor, confirmed she is their boss. Sawo declined to take further questions when quizzed on the illegality of their activities. “Ask Binta herself,” he said and hung up the phone.

‘Just Sample’

The people in Lolo Town showed they were as fond of  Bility as those in Zoegar Town.  A woman, who did not give her name, called  Bility “my ma,” when our reporter showed her the picture Bility uses as her Facebook profile. Other residents, including Solomon Kpolon, an elder of Lolo Town, also identified Bility as the woman in the picture.

We visited the illegal logging site near the Worr River, a good distance from Lolo town. It was an old camp Bility had set up for her chainsaw milling operation, according to the townspeople we interviewed. There were an abandoned, makeshift warehouse still locked and an apartment camp house. Cassava, potato and pineapple thrived among the invading, wet bush. Leftover woods dotted the area. Twenty-six timbers measuring seven feet long and 10 inches wide are next to a felled tree.

“The kpokolo in the bush… are samples. [She asked us to do the sample so that] if someone she can bring the person here to see it,” said Stephen Bull, who said he headed the operation at that site and had known Bility since 2020. He even called out her number offhand.

Bull added that it took up to 15 men to place the woods in the push-push our reporters saw in the back of the truck at Garblah’s house. Thereafter, the vehicle takes the illegal timbers to the central location in Zoegar Town, according to Bull.

We found a phone number written with charcoal on the plank wall of the warehouse at the camp belonging to Kantee Zabeh. Zabeh, who said he was 20 years old,  claimed to be Bility’s son in a phone interview. He gave her address as 21st Street, something Togbah had earlier told our reporters.

Timbers that were illegally harvested by Binta Bility in a forest in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Garblah said the woods were meant to be exported.  “Bility told me that the place she usually sells the timber is where the fighting is taking place in Europe, so this is why the woods have not gone yet and [are] still packing over there.”

By law, chainsaw milling is illegal but is permitted because the woods are supplied to the local market. The FDA has a system where fees are collected at various checkpoints, while it formulates a regulation for that kind of logging.

But kpokolo is illegal. Such timbers are exported outside of the official system that tracks woods from harvest to shipment, a crucial principle of Liberia’s forestry reform.  Bility is not registered in that system known in the industry as LiberTrace, according to Gertrude Nyaley, the technical manager of FDA’s legality verification department (LVD). The DayLight had made a formal inquiry on the businesswoman’s status.   

This investigation comes more than two weeks since leaked videos and pictures revealed similar operations run by an FDA ranger, who has now been suspended. The agency has alarmed over the smuggling of wood in containers, which it says makes it difficult to track down.  

Bility denies she runs unlawful activities in Compound Number One. She challenged the fact the villagers revealed she was the mastermind of the illegal harvesting. “Stop disturbing my line but you are free to report whatever you [want] to,” she said in a WhatsApp chat. “I know I’m not doing any illegal logging.

“Good luck, dear,” she added.

“I just can’t stop laughing,” she said in another WhatsApp chat with several laughing emojis.

A man measures the diameter of a tree illegally harvested by loggers hired by Binta Bility in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Bility still carries on with her operations. In our second round of interviews with Garblah, he told The DayLight she called him and asked whether he had spoken with us. A motorcycle-taxi driver, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal, also said she dropped off a worker in the area on Sunday.

When told that Bility denies working in that part of the country, Bull gave a wry smile. “For her to deny that she is not working here is not right,” he said.

A person who does not hold a contract but harvests logs carries a fine for three times the value of species of timber at the prevailing price set by the FDA, according to the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timbers and Timber Products.  The current price for ekki woods is US$210.

The vehicle being used by Binta Bility to transport illegally harvested logs in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Mark Newa

CORRECTION: This story deletes the word “legally” in the twelve paragraph for consistency.

Mark Newa, Emmanuel Sherman, Gerald Koinyeneh and an unnamed motorcyclist-taxi driver contributed to this report.

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

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