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FDA Illegally Cut Contracts Term And Gave Companies More Forests

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Top: The Forestry Development Authority unlawfully authorized companies to harvest trees in forests in excess of the legal requirements. The DayLight/Derick Snyder


By James Harding Giahyue


  • For three years, the Forestry Development Authority illegally approved community forest contracts with reduced tenures, according to official documents
  • The FDA then authorized logging companies to fell trees in forest areas in excess of the legal requirements. Subsequently, the companies were to harvest up to three times more than the lawful timeframe
  • At least one of the companies harvested in an extra forest area for three years before the scandal broke out
  • A Ministry of Justice investigation found the FDA, its partner SGS and a company liable for at least one case

MONROVIA – From 2018 to 2020, the Forestry Development Authority unlawfully approved several contracts in community forests with reduced lifespans. Then the FDA authorized some of the contracted companies to harvest logs yearly in areas more than twice the legal sizes, according to unpublished official documents and an investigation report by the government.  

In those three years, the FDA sanctioned seven logging agreements whose lifespans were sliced from 15 years to between five and 14 years, the documents show.

Thereafter, the agency permitted five companies to operate thousands of hectares of excess forestlands, breaking legal frameworks. At least one of the companies harvested in the extra area about three years before it was discovered in 2021, according to the Ministry of Justice report.  

“The advent of illegality in the forestry sector has eroded the credibility of the management team, thereby affecting donors’ behavior,” Harrison Karnwea, Sr., the chairman of FDA’s board of directors, told President Weah in a letter last January.

“We have started to see the negative impacts on their support to our National Budget,” Karnwea added.

The FDA suspended and replaced four top-level managers after the ministry’s inquest, including Jerry Yonmah, the former technical manager of the commercial department. Yonmah denied any wrongdoing.

FDA board of directors asked President Weah to dismiss Yonmah, the other managers and Deputy Managing Director for Operations Joseph Tally— particularly for Gheegbarn #1. It also asked for the retirement of Tally, who had served the agency for over 30 years at the time. Yonmah had denied any wrongdoing.

Joseph Tally, the deputy managing director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) speaks at an event when European Union ambassadors visited Gheegbarn #1 in March 2023.  The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue  

But none of the dismissals happened. Yonmah and the other managers were transferred to new departments, while Tally retains his position. Tally dubbed the matter “water under the bridge” in an emailed statement to The DayLight on Wednesday and said he had a “creditable reputation.”

The scandal was similar to one in Bluyeama, where the FDA sanctioned a company to harvest trees outside its contract area valued at an estimated US$2.2 million.

Illegal Contracts

An agreement between Kparblee Community Forest in Nimba and Sanabel Investment Incorporated was reduced to 14 years. The same happened with Korninga B in Gbarpolu and Indo Africa Plantation Liberia Limited.

Another between Gheegbam #1 and the West African Forest Development Incorporated in Grand Bassa was shortened to seven years.

The FDA also sliced four other agreements to five years. They include Marblee & Karblee and African Wood & Lumber Company, Tarsue and West African Forest Development Inc in Grand Bassa. The Gbarsaw & Dorbor and African Wood & Lumber, Ziadue & Teekpeh and Brilliant Maju agreements in River Cess complete the quadruplet.   

The reductions go against the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands and the Community Rights Regulation. The legal frameworks restrict community-forest contracts to 15 years, subject to a review every five years.

The frameworks are key pillars of Liberia’s agenda to share the benefits of forest resources with locals following decades of deprivation.

Leaders of the community forests affected scandal distanced themselves from the illegality of their contracts.

Abraham Cooper of Marblee and Karblee said last year, “We did not sign any agreement behind the government of Liberia.”  

Forest Bonanza

While the FDA cut the lifespans of the seven unlawful contracts, it authorized the companies to cut trees at faster rates to match the legal 15-year period.  In one case, the agency approved a company’s plan to harvest outside its contract area.  

C. Mike Doryen oversaw the Forestry Development Authority’s approval of illegal community forest agreements from 2018 to 2020. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue  

For instance, the FDA approved African Wood & Lumber Company’s harvesting plan for 5,600 hectares in the Marblee & Karblee Community Forest from 2019 to 2020. It had authorized the company to cut trees on 28,000 hectares for all five years of the operations, according to one of the documents.  

That means the FDA endorsed the company to harvest 3,645 hectares of forest in addition to the 24,355 hectares of the community forest. The FDA even authorized African Wood & Lumber to cut trees outside the community forest. Nearly seven percent of the area crosses over to territories belonging to adjacent towns and villages, one document shows.

“After thorough review… by the joint team…, we hereby approve said plan, having met all basic requirements,” Doryen wrote African Wood CEO Cesare Colombo, approving its plan for the 2019-2020 harvest season.  

Doryen wrongly claimed in the letter that the plan contained accurate, complete and quality information. He incorrectly referenced the Guideline for Forest Management Planning and the Regulation on Pre-felling Requirements.

By law, African Wood & Lumber should have gotten 1,600 hectares per year, according to the guidelines and regulations Doryen cited. (It was unclear whether the company actually harvested in the extra area or outside the forest.)

Cesare Colombo, African Wood & Lumber owner and CEO, did not respond to emailed queries for comments.  

A screenshot of a page of a harvesting plan the Forestry Development Authority approved that illegally gave Marblee & Karblee 5,600 hectares of land, instead of 1,600 hectares. It also shows that the FDA authorized the company to cut trees outside its contract area in Grand Bassa’s Compound Number Two.

The height of the scandal was the West Africa Forest Development Incorporated (WAFDI). The company actually harvested logs in the extra forest area the FDA approved in 2018.

In late 2021, the Ministry of Justice uncovered that the company had been operating on an illegal harvesting plan. Ironically, the FDA and WAFDI had disagreed over the export of logs from the very illegal area the regulator had approved.  

But by then, WAFDI had exported some 29,104 cubic meters of round logs from 2019 to 2021, according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI). In 2021 alone, WAFDI sold US$531,460 million LEITI records show, citing FDA and company figures.

The ministry reprimanded FDA, WAFDI and SGS, a Switzerland-based firm that created Liberia’s log-tracking system, for the violations.

Minister of Justice Musa Dean said in a letter to Karnwea that Doryen approved WAFDI’s plan “although such management plan violated… the National Forestry Reform Law… and the Code of Harvesting Practices… 

“FDA was in gross violation of the law in failing to ensure that the approved management plan reflected the portion of the forest area that could be harvested within seven years… and not allow blanket harvesting of the entire area for five years,” Dean’s letter read.   

FDA’s board of directors urged Managing Director Mike Doryen, who approved all the illegal contracts and harvesting plans, to sign future documents with the advice of the FDA’s legal department.

The board also suggested that Doryen attended sector meetings to abreast himself with governance and operational matters. Doryen still skips those meetings, according to two regular attendees of the regular gatherings. At an international climate and forest conference Liberia hosted earlier this year, he had promised to attend the meetings. Doryen did not return a thread of emails we sent to him between last February and this month.

WAFDI called off an interview in its third minute with The DayLight at the company’s camp in Compound Number Two. A company executive said The DayLight did not inform them about the interview beforehand.

Abandoned Agreements

All of the other companies involved in the scandal have deserted their responsibilities to the government and the communities.

African Wood & Lumber has not worked in Marblee & Karblee in the last three years. It abandoned some 2,682 logs in Marblee & Karblee. And it owes the company an estimated US$126,029 community in land rental and harvesting fees.

Indo Africa has abandoned Korninga B, which had filed for cancellation of the deal following years of stalemate.

WAFDI no longer works in Tarsue, which did not have the right to sign an agreement when logging began there. Locals had considered terminating the contract.

African Wood walked out of the agreement with Gbarsaw & Dorbor, where it illegally harvested 550 logs in December 2020.    

Gbarsaw & Dorbor is one of the community forests for which the FDA approved an illegal logging agreement. The DayLight/William Q. Harmon

Similarly, Brilliant Maju has not been active for years, according to local media and a union of authorized community forests. The company has failed to fulfill its side of the agreement with Ziadue & Teekpeh.   

Sanabel abandoned 710 logs in Kparblee, and owes the Nimba community in land and harvesting fees, according to villagers.

“The agreements are dormant,” said Bonathan Walaka, the lead facilitator of the National Union of Community Forest Management Body. “They are all dormant.”

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

Court Files: FDA Deputy Dodged Police Illegal Logging Probe

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Top: FDA’s Deputy Managing Director for Administration and Finance Benjamin Tennessee Plewon III did not turn out for questioning over his alleged involvement with an illegal logging operation in 2022. Facebook/Benjamin Plewon


By O`Neill Philips for The DayLight


MONROVIA – The Deputy Managing Director for Administration and Finance Benjamin Tennessee Plewon III Forestry Development Authority refused to cooperate with a police investigation into an illegal logging operation, court documents reveal.    

The Liberian National Police invited Plewon over his alleged connection to men suspected of illegally harvesting logs in Gbarpolu County last year, according to the documents. The police filed the documents last year but The DayLight only obtained them last week.

The suspects, including Korean nationals, FDA rangers, a then-police commander and a customs officer, are accused of trying to smuggle timber valued at US$60,000, the documents say.

“The investigation notes that Benjamin Tennessee Plewon… failed to honor the invitation, which constitutes hindering law enforcement…,” reads a police report filed with Criminal Court A. No charges were filed against Plewon.

A copy of an export permit issued to Coveiyallah, which the Deputy Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Benjamin Tennessee Plewon III allegedly provided to an illegal logging syndicate. Members of the syndicates have been charged with various offenses, ranging from economic sabotage to bribery.

Plewon is accused of providing the export permit of Coveiyallah, according to the documents. Coveiyellah, which operates in Gbarpolu, owns the permit.

Plewon allegedly gave the permit to Isaac Railey, the head of the FDA law enforcement department. Railey then presented the permit to Dawoda Sesay, then a police commander in the Paynesville area, according to the filings. Sesay has since been disrobed and Railey suspended.

Plewon did not respond to WhatsApp questions or pick up calls for comments on the allegation. 

The DayLight exposed the illegal operation in August last year after the FDA seized three trucks transporting the illicit timber. An alleged disagreement over the payment of a bribe had exposed the syndicate, according to court filings.   

The police charged Railey, Sesay and several other suspects with economic sabotage and other crimes.  

The men deny the charges. They have not been indicted, about six months after their arrest and release on bail by the Monrovia City Court.


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

Korean Illegal Logging Web Not Yet Indicted

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Top: Police officers at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By O’Neill Philips


  • Two Korean nationals suspected of illegal logging activities and their Liberian partners are yet to be indicted
  • Prosecutors drafted an indictment for the men but have not signed it.
  • A related case against an ex-police commander was dismissed because prosecutors failed to appear in court.
  • The men will walk away free if the Liberian government does not indict them in the next term of court

MONROVIA – Prosecutors are yet to indict members of a syndicate of the Liberian National Police charged with various crimes over an illegal logging operation in Gbarpolu County, nearly six months after they were arrested.   

Korean duo Beomjin Lee and Jun Jeon Sik, and their Liberian partners were charged with economic sabotage, theft, criminal conspiracy, and criminal facilitation to forgery and bribery.

Their partners include Varney Marshall, Dawoda Sesay, Isaac Richmond Anderson, Jr., Edward Jallah, Isaac Railey, Peter Kpadeh, David Tawah and Prince Kwesi Wallace. The men deny any wrongdoing.

The Monrovia City Court jailed and then released the men back in January after the police forwarded the suspects there, following five months of investigation, court documents show.

Since their writ of arrest was issued by the court on November 10 last year, the matter has long lingered on.

Prosecutors have drafted an indictment but did not sign the document, seen by The DayLight.

Sources familiar with the matter told The DayLight Acting Montserrado County Attorney Boakai Harvey did not sign it because he is related to at least one of the suspects.

When contacted at his Temple of Justice office, Harvey admitted that he recused himself from the matter but did not provide any reason. It was not clear why another prosecutor did not sign the draft indictment, as is the procedure in such instances.

The government has the next term of court to indict the men, as the current term is about to close. If not, the court will dismiss the charges entirely in line with the Criminal Procedure Law of Liberia.   

Case with Ex-policeman Dismissed

The Monrovia City Court, however, heard a case between the government and one of the accused men, Dawoda Sesay.  That case was dismissed last month because the FDA did not appear in court. Legally, magisterial courts can hear a case without an indictment and dismiss it after a particular timeframe.

One of the trucks of illegal logs in Sawmill, Gbarpolu County. The truck has been allowed to leave, with the logs kept in at the FDA sub-office. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Before the court dismissed the case, Sesay’s lawyer argued that the state was reluctant to prosecute him in violation of his right to a fair and speedy trial, according to court filings.

Prosecutors said they did not appear because they did not have the means to get witnesses from Gbarpolu and Bomi to Monrovia to testify in court.

They could still try Sesay during the next term of court in August, even in a circuit court, our judicial correspondent said.

Beomjin Lee and Jun Sik are accused of working with Isaac Richmond Anderson and Sesay and building a syndicate to smuggle logs to South Korea.

They went to Gbarpolu County and allegedly harvested an expensive species of woods over a month to be shipped to Busan, South Korea. The timber was valued at over US$60,000, according to court records.

Beomjin, Sesay and Anderson contacted Peter Kpadeh, an employee of the Ministry of Commerce, Kpadeh allegedly contacted Isaac Railey, the head of the FDA law enforcement department. They are suspected of conniving with Prince Kwesi Wallace and David Taweh, two custom brokers, according to court documents.

Sesay and Anderson then made arrangements for four trucks to transport the log from Gbarpolu to the Freeport of Monrovia. But two of the trucks were arrested at Klay in Bomi and impounded at the FDA sub-offices in Tubmanburg and Sawmill.  

Rangers Edward Jallah and Varney Marshall had taken a US$600 bribe from Anderson and Sesay and allowed one of the trucks to pass the checkpoint, according to court documents.   

The DayLight broke the story in a two-part series in August last year. The online environmental newspaper provided the police with evidence.

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

Ex-Minister Leaves Government With A Trail of Illegal Acts

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


By Mark B. Newa


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover-up Exposed

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

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

This new evidence reinforces The DayLight’s previous reports.

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

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

Stealing Logs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UFC’s Illegal Goldmines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illegal Logging Case Undermines Forestry Laws – Watchdog

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Top: Some of the woods at the center of a legal battle between the Forestry Development Authority and Renaissance Group Incorporated. Photo credit: Civil Society Independent Forest Monitors (CSIFM)

By Mark B. Newa


MONROVIA – A group of civil society organizations in the forestry sector has condemned a logging company for undermining forestry laws and other regulations.

Renaissance Group Incorporated illegally harvesting timber products outside Timber Sales Contract Area Two (TSC-A2) in District Number One, Grand Bassa County.

“Illegal logging outside Liberia’s legal and regulatory framework and exporting of illegally sourced timber is a failure of the rule of law and this undermines Liberia’s efforts towards attaining FLEGT VPA license,” the Independent Forest Monitoring Coordination Mechanism said in a statement on Saturday.

Renaissance and another company called Freedom Group Liberia subcontracted TSC-A2, which was acquired by Tarpeh Timber Company back in 2009.    

In 2018-19 Renaissance and Freedom Group illegally logged at least 14,000 cubic meters of timber worth an estimated US$4.4 million at the time on the international market, according to a 2021 investigation by the group.

Nine thousand cubic meters of illegally logged timber was exported already in 2019 at an estimated value of US$2.8 million at the international market value between January and July 2019.

Jonathan Yiah of the Sustainable Development Institute, right and Abraham Billy, left of the Independent Forest Monitoring Coordination Mechanismteam/The DayLight/Mark B. Newa

In July 2020, a French consortium hired by the European Union reported that timber felling associated with TSC-A2 was largely uncontrolled. Liberia and the EU signed a Voluntary Partnership Agreement, which commits Liberia to develop and implement systems that ensure that timber exports to European Union countries are legally sourced.

The Ministry of Justice and the Forestry Development Authority conducted their own inquest, which confirmed that Renaissance illegally harvested valuable Ekki wood in the Doe Clan, some six kilometers outside the TSC-A2 concession.

Renaissance has reportedly planned to export the rest of the timber it illegally harvested based on the ruling of the court authorizing the FDA to permit the company to ship.

“[Renaissance] is now in the process of completing export of the remaining logs now that the Court has instructed the FDA to authorize exporting these logs, followed by an order of the Supreme Court,” according to Jonathan Yiah of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI).

Yiah said the processes leading to the harvesting and subsequent exportation of timber products by the company circumvent the law.

“As long as the illegal logging connected to TSC-A2 remains unresolved, sustainable forest management is being undermined. It clearly validates statements that Liberia’s forest sector is replete with illegalities,” Yiah told reporters.

On January 13, last year, the Second Judicial Circuit Court in Buchanan has started enforcing its ruling of January 13, 2022, in favor of RGI against the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

The court said it could not subject Renaissance to “double jeopardy,” a legal phrase for punishing an individual twice for the same offense.

The CSO group blamed the FDA liable for not appropriately referring the case to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution “because the offense significantly harms the interest of local communities.”

The group lauded the action of the French General Society of Surveillance (SGS) refusal to enroll the logs in question into the chain of custody systems, “categorizing them as illegal logs under Liberia’s forestry legal requirements.”

The group urged the government of Liberia to ensure that the laws of Liberia, especially, forestry laws are respected and enforced at all times.  

The remaining member CSOs of the group are Liberia Forest Media Watch, Civil Society Independent Forest Monitor, National Union of Community Forest Management Body, National Union of Community Forest Development Committee, Foundation for Community Initiative and Save My Future Foundation.

How Police Busted A Web of Korean Timber Traffickers

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Top: A graphic showing members of an illegal logging syndicate busted by the Liberian National Police and charged. Above left to right: former police commander Dawoda Sesay, customs officer Peter Kpadeh and Isaac Richmond Anderson, Jr. Below left to right: former FDA rangers Edward Jallah, Varney Marshall, Isaac Railey. And the Edwin Wesley of Echo Group of Companies. The DayLight/Rebazar D. Forte


By Esau J. Farr


MONROVIA – In January the Liberia National Police (LNP) charged several men, including two Korean nationals, in connection with an illegal logging operation in Gbarpolu County.

The men included Varney Marshall, Dawoda Sesay, Isaac Richmond Anderson, Jr., Edward Jallah, Isaac Railey, Peter Kpadeh, David Tawah and Prince Kwesi Wallace. The two Koreans were Beomjin Lee and Jun Jeon Sik, according to the police charge sheet.

Their charges range from economic sabotage, theft, criminal conspiracy, and criminal facilitation to forgery and bribery, according to an arrest warrant by the Monrovia City Court.

“These people will go in the bushes, fell the trees, cut the logs and use bogus documents in order to evade taxes, and will use those documents to ship the containers of logs out of Liberia,” said the Inspector General of the Liberia National Police Patrick Sudue at a news conference.

That might have been the beginning of the men’s case but the end of a timber-trafficking network, first exposed in an investigation by The DayLight in August last year. This investigation further sheds light on the organization of the Korean-connected syndicate and illegal logging in Liberia.

A Phone Call from South Korea

It all started with a phone call Isaac Richmond Anderson, Jr. received a call from South Korea in June last year. A friend asked Anderson, a former official of the Liberian Consulate in Seoul, to help two Koreans export first-class logs to the Asian country, according to Anderson.

One of the trucks with the illegal logs in it at Sawmill in Gbarpolu County. The truck has been allowed to leave and the logs are being kept at the FDA checkpoint there. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Anderson then met Korvah Jallah from Gbarpolu County, one of the most forested regions in Liberia. They needed to strike a deal with people in the Weimu village in Bopolu District to get the trees and then assemble a team of chainsaw operators. They would then get container trucks and transport the logs to the Freeport of Monrovia.

“They (Koreans) want to carry the wood as a sample and then pay later,” Anderson told The DayLight back in August.    

Jobless and broke to pre-finance, Anderson turned to a long-term friend, Dawoda Sesay, who bought the idea. Anderson introduced Sesay to the Koreans, according to the police affidavit. Sesay, himself a police commander in the Paynesville area, arranged for the trucks, contacting truckers at the Freeport of Monrovia to transport the wood. He had provided an initial US$1,200 for the harvest.

In Weimu, they harvested a number of ekki logs, according to Anderson’s record of the harvest, obtained by The DayLight. Durable and water-resistant, ekki timber is used in shipbuilding and outdoor constructions. 

In total Sesay hired five trucks to transport the timber, valued at over US$60,000, according to the police. The deal with the truckers would expose the role of the trucking industry in illegal logging and start a conversation between drivers and the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).

‘You killed [us]’

While on their way to Monrovia, rangers at the checkpoint at Klay, Bomi County, arrested two of the trucks loaded with the logs. The drivers did not show a permit for the transport, known in forestry as a waybill. That was a red flag, a violation of the National Forestry Reform Law and the Regulation on the Establishment of a Chain of Custody System.  

“The FDA sees the actions of Mr. Sesay and the owners of the truck as a gross violation of the National Forestry Reform Law,” Cllr. Yanquoi Dolo, the head of the FDA’s legal department, told The DayLight in an email after the arrest of the trucks.  

“The Managing Director of the FDA, Hon. C. Mike Doryen has frowned on this gross illegality and has requested that sternest of action against the violators consistent with the laws governing the forestry sector,” Dolo added.

In an interview with The DayLight, Sesay admitted hiring the trucks to transport the illegal logs but at the same time denied any wrongdoing. 

“As police officers, we have our inalienable rights: the right to live, the right to survive. So, if my brother came to me and said, ‘Look, I need this assistance,’ then… I made the arrangement…, is that something prohibited?” Sesay asked rhetorically at his Mount Barclay residence.

“Even if I knew what they (truckers) were going to get, that is none of my business. If the transaction was illegal, I was not there to know that it was illegal,” Sesay added.

The FDA held two of the trucks at its substation in Tubmanburg, while it impounded another at the agency’s checkpoint at Sawmill, Gbarpolu County. The one in Tubmanburg is no longer at its location, while the one at Sawmill remains there.  

The FDA also filed two petitions to confiscate and auction the vehicles and the logs in them at the circuit courts in Tubmanburg and Bopolu, according to the court records.

News of the arrest of the containers reached the board of directors of the FDA, which asked the Liberia National Police to investigate. Following more than four months of the inquest, the police finally charged Anderson, Sesay, Beomjin, Jun, Jallah and Marshall. The Monrovia City Court then issued an arrest warrant for them.

Jallah and Marshall were the two rangers who arrested the trucks. However, they collected a US$600 bribe from Prince Kwesie Wallace and allowed one of the trucks to leave, according to the police. Wallace and David Tawah, both customs brokers, were contacted by Peter Kpadeh, a monitor for export at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry at the Freeport of Monrovia, according to the police.  

Upon receiving the US$600, Jallah escorted the container truck to the Freeport of Monrovia, the police said. However, it was a disagreement over the bribe for the other trucks that exposed the syndicate. The DayLight received a tipoff and broke the news of the containers with illegally harvested logs.

Records Anderson kept of the illegal logging operation. They show the license plates of two vehicles, the volume of logs, the markings on each log and the containers smuggling them.  
 

Police and FDA authorities traced the runaway truck and container, but from all indications, the logs had been exported. The Liberia National Police disrobed Sesay. Similarly, the FDA dismissed Jallah and Marshall and suspended Railey.  Efforts to speak with Railey and Jallah did not materialize. We will update the story once we get comments from both men.

In a WhatsApp chat, Marshall reproached Anderson for exposing him and the other rangers. “Brother, why you killed [us]?” We [have] been friends for long. Remember we are all young people. And this is Liberia,” Marshall said, according to a screenshot of their conversation The DayLight obtained from Anderson.

Anderson fired back at Marshall, accusing him of hypocrisy. “It is how our people are proceeding. We are Liberia but they [failed] to understand and posting our names and photos almost everywhere in the public,” Anderson wrote.  What so much have we done! And Jallah was there saying the money is small…”

Turns out Marshall was involved with at least another illegal logging operation. Leaked video and pictures published by The DayLight had also unearthed his illegal logging business. The videos show a furious Marshall fuming at an accomplice for tricking him. The pictures provided more details of his operations, including him posing before a man milling timber with a chainsaw.

A leaked picture shows Varney Marshall, then an FDA ranger, posing at an illegal logging site believed to be in Gbarpolu. He was dismissed by the agency and charged in connection with an illegal logging operation in the same county by the Liberia National Police in January.  

Marshall had pitched the videos and pictures to Anderson so that they could work on an operation together, based on a WhatsApp chat between the two men. Marshall has not faced any trial for it.  Marshall did not grant The DayLight an interview and also did not respond to WhatsApp messages.

‘Future embarrassment’

The police also charged Edwin Kpadeh, Wallace and Tawah for their role in the deal.

Anderson and the Koreans had first engaged Wesley for the operation but he charged them US$12,000. Echo charged the Beomjin and Jun US$2,500 to transport apparently one of the containers to the Freeport of Monrovia plus US$59 for insurance, according to a document dated June 30, 2022, obtained by The DayLight. The Koreans could not afford it, so the deal collapsed,  according to the police charge sheet. The police did not charge Wesley because their “investigation could not establish evidence.”

Echo is an illegal shipping line, as its shareholders are unnamed, according to its legal documents. The  Business Association Law of Liberia prohibits undisclosed owners of companies. A 2020 change in the 1977 law was a move by Liberia to fight global terrorism, tax evasion and other crimes.

Having failed to seal the deal with Echo, Anderson and co then turned to Kpadeh, according to the police charge sheet. This time they sealed a deal. Sesay gave Kpadeh US$1,200 Sesay through Isaac Railey, the head of the FDA law enforcement department, the police said.

It is not clear how Railey entered the picture. However, Railey helped Kpadeh forge a permit belonging to Conveiyallah Enterprise Incorporated to export the stolen logs, the police said. Kpadeh got help from Wallace and Tawah in the process, according to the police. The permit, a copy The DayLight obtained, had been issued to Coveiyallah, which operates in the Korninga A Community Forest also in Gbarpolu County in May of that year.

The DayLight attained an email thread with Kpadeh, Anderson and D. Prime Group of Company Inc., a company owned by Dawoda Sesay (80 percent) and  Mamanue Sesay, a resident of Gbarnga, Bong County (20 percent), according to the company’s article of incorporation at the Liberia Business Registry. A woman named Roseline Kamara of D. Prime forwarded the email to Kpadeh at about 2:49 pm on Tuesday, August 9 last year.  Kpadeh then forwarded it to Anderson two minutes later.  

Attached to the email is an invoice to a Korean man named Jin Lee of the MI Jun Co. Ltd in Busan, South Korea. It bears the bank details of the D. Prime company for the shipment of five 20-foot containers of ekki wood. The markings of the containers on the invoice match the ones the FDA seized. Kpadeh did not respond to WhatsApp messages for comments.

Less than a week after the email exchanges, Sesay arranged the transport of the illegal timber with Shakia Kamara and Layee Sheriff, truckers at the Freeport of Monrovia. Sesay agreed to pay the men either US$900 or US$1,000 per truck, Dawoda Sesay and the truckers told The DayLight.

Putting transporting and exporting logs in containers has offered illegal loggers an opportunity to smuggle timber out of Liberia. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Containerized timber and corrupt officials make it easier for smugglers to operate. Earlier this year, an investigation by The DayLight revealed that in 2020, Assistant Minister of Trade Peter Somah issued an illegal permit to a Turkish company to smuggle timber to India for US$19,800. The FDA has instructed rangers at various checkpoints and the Freeport of Monrovia to open all containers and verify their legality.

The FDA also sued Shakia Kamara, who owns one of the Klay trucks, and Sheriff, the owner of the one at Sawmill, in separate lawsuits in Tubmanburg and Bopolu, according to court filings. The agency is seeking a US$25,000 fine, a 12-month prison term for the men, and forfeiture of the vehicles, all maximum penalties.  

Those cases have not been heard ever since. Two of the trucks are no longer parked at the FDA sub-office in Tubmanburg. It is the same with the one at Sawmill, Gbarpolu, with the logs in it now at the FDA checkpoint there.

The National Truckers Association of Liberia said it would take steps to prevent timber smuggling. “We want to have a memorandum of understanding [with the FDA] because we want to avoid future embarrassment,” Yahaya Kemokai, the secretary general of the association, told The DayLight in August last year. “We know that there are a lot of clandestine activities going on with the transportation of woods.”

CORRECTION: This version of the story corrects the previous version, which said the police charged Edwin Wesley of Echo Group of Companies. Wesley was named in the police investigation but wasn’t charged.

We also corrected the spellings of Beomjin Lee and Peter Kpadeh. The previous version of the story had them as “Beonjin” and “Kpateh.”

UPDATES:


[Henry Gboluma in Bopolu, Gbarpolu County, contributed to this report]

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

Logs Left at Sinoe Port and Forest Rot

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Top: Several logs Delta Timber Company left at the Port of Greenville, Sinoe County that have now decayed. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Emmanuel Sherman


GREENVILLE, Sinoe County – Scores of logs at the port of Greenville and a community forest belonging to a logging company have decayed in the southeastern county, despite the company producing perhaps the least number of timber in the industry.  

Delta Timber Corporation produced the timber in the last five years, based on the company’s official harvesting records. It is believed the company took the logs to the port between 2017 and 2018.  

The DayLight reporters saw a grassy field of decayed logs at the port in January, some still showcasing “DTC,” the company’s industry-recognized abbreviation. A few lay in piles, while others spread across the bushy, open field.

Apart from the decayed logs at the port, there are others left unattended in the Numopoh Community Forest, where Delta operates.

“They are many in the forest all over, some in the landing,” said Sam Kandie, head of the community forest leadership.  Landing is the place the logs are gathered and sorted. Kandie said the company last felled a tree in September 2021.

Official records show that Delta produced a total of 1,624.521 cubic meters of logs in the last five years.

But the company exported just 237.178 cubic meters or  41 logs, according to the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).  

Delta Timber Company left scores of logs at the Port of Greenville in Sinoe County that have now rotted. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

That means between 2016 and 2021, Delta abandoned 1,387.343 cubic meters of logs. Logs are abandoned when companies leave them unattended for between three weeks and six months, depending on the locations, according to the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products.

But Delta’s abandoned logs are likely more than the ones The DayLight calculated. A 2018 report by Volunteers to Support International Efforts in Developing Africa (VOSIEDA) found the company abandoned over 500 logs it harvested outside Numopoh.  Harvesting timber outside a contract area is a violation of the National Forestry Reform Law, and such logs are not captured in FDA’s tracking system.

FDA did not respond to queries on Delta’s abandoned logs. However, recently, it said in a statement it punished companies with abandoned logs without showing any evidence. It said in the statement that it had punished three other companies also operating in the Sinoe area for the same reason.

A pile of Delta Timber Company’s logs at the yard of the Port of Greenville, Sinoe County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Under the abandoned logs regulation, the FDA must petition a court to confiscate and auction logs it deems abandoned. The government loses revenue when logs rot.

Delta Timber Corporation and Numopoh Community Forest signed a five-year logging agreement in May 2016.

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

Illegal Company Abandons Some 6,000 Logs in River Cess

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Top: A pile of logs in the Garwin Community Forest in River Cess County. The DayLight/Gabriel Dixon


KANGBO TOWN, River Cess – Between 2021 and last year, Tetra Enterprise Inc, an illegitimate Liberian-owned logging company, felled  1,300 trees in the Garwin Community Forest but has removed just a few.

“Tetra harvested 220 logs in 2021 and in 2022 felled additional 1,080 logs,” said Rev. Benison Sarchkoh, head of the community forest’s leadership.

In April, the leadership wrote the company,  giving it an ultimatum to extract and scale the logs felled in the bush before the end of that month.

“Do short hauling to Kangbo Town at [the] proposed camp to clear the logs from the bush before the heavy rains,” Sarchkoh said in the letter, obtained by The DayLight.  Kangbo Town is the headquarters of Tetra Inc. and home to Garwin Community Forest leadership.

Kangbo Town, the headquarters of the Garwin Community Forest’s leadership. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman

Sarchkoh said the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) endorsed their request of the community.

Tetra has left more logs in the forest than the number Sarchkoh provided, official data shows. Between 2018 and 2021, Tetra abandoned 28,039.6 cubic meters of logs it harvested in the Garwin Community Forest, according to our analysis of records from the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Industries (LEITI).

We estimated the 28,039.6 cubic meters at  5,000 logs. That, plus the 1,300 logs the company felled between 2021 and last year sum up to about 6,000 logs.

This reporter photographed some of the logs but could not go further due to inaccessibility. 

A Tetra spokesperson attributed the delay in extracting the logs to bad roads. However, William Yeasay said the company had begun extracting the woods to its log yard in Buchanan.

“We have extracted 100 pieces.”

Under the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timbers and Timber Products, logs are abandoned if they are unattended between three weeks and six months, depending on the locations. From all indications, Tetra’s logs are abandoned, having remained in the forest for at least one year.

The penalty for such an offense is a fine equivalent to two times the volume of the logs, according to the regulation.

FDA did not respond to inquiries emailed to it, including whether or not Tetra was authorized to fell more trees in Garwin.

But recently, the agency said it would confiscate and auction abandoned logs across the country to curb the widespread violation. It said it would not award a harvesting certificate to any company that has that problem. To confiscate and auction the abandoned logs, the FDA must petition a circuit court following the publication of public notices, according to the regulation.

Tetra office and proposed camp in Kangbo Town, The Daylight/Gabriel Dixon

Broken promises

Tetra Inc signed a 15-year agreement with Garwin Community Forest on March 18, 2017, to operate in the 36,637-hectare  forest, one of the richest in forest and suitable for commercial.

According to the agreement, the company would sell logs and give back to the community, including fees for land rental, harvesting, scholarships and others.

But in the last two years, the company has not met those legal obligations.

Tetra owes Garwin Community Forest over US$60,000 in land rental, scholarship and supportive fees for other essential projects. It owes villagers land rental for two years of US$50,362 and scholarships fee for one year of US$8,000. It also owes compensation for two government-built clinics of US$3,000, according to the community. Yeasay confirmed the outstanding payments.

Tetra has also not constructed schools, roads, or clinics, based on the agreement. According to the agreement, it should have built and furnished an elementary school in 2019  and a junior school this year. It should have paved a primary road and constructed additional clinics to the ones in the area by now.   

As a result of these things, chiefs and elders of the region lodged a complaint with the Morweh Magisterial Court in Boegeezay Town, asking the judge to halt logging activities there until their agreement was reviewed.

We will revisit the agreement this year,” Sarchkoh told The DayLight.

How Tetra is an Illegal Company

An April investigation by The DayLight revealed Tetra is an illegal company.

The report found that the company has a bearer share, which means it has an unnamed shareholder. Such shares are illegal under the Business Association Law.  

The investigation also revealed Comfort Telma Sawyer, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister runs the company, a violation of the  Liberian Constitution, the National Forestry Reform Law, and the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. The laws prohibit a conflict of interest involving an official of the government.

The investigation showed indications Sawyer owns Tetra, something corroborated by her lawyer.

Former interim President of the Republic of Liberia Late Dr. Amos Sawyer and his wife Thelma Comfort Sawyer Deputy Foreign Minister. Picture credit: The Liberian embassy in the United States.

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

‘Kpokolo’ Explained: What We Know About the Illegal Trade

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Top: Kpokolo in plain sight in Gbaryama, Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By James Harding Giahyue


MONROVIA – Last week, the two Turkish nationals were arrested in Ganta, Nimba County for their alleged involvement in illegal logging activities in that region.

Police finally picked up Hasan Uzan and Umit Gungor after a couple of days on the run. Hasan Uzan and Gungor are part of Askon Liberia General Trading Incorporated. The company violated the terms of its sawmill permit by engaging in harvesting and exporting of thick timber, commonly called Kpokolo, according to the Forestry Development Authority (FDA). The FDA had banned the company and barred Hasan Uzan, Yeter Uzan and Faith Uzan, its co-owners from forestry activities.

Kpokolo, the most common illegal logging operation in the country, is largely responsible for the infamy of Liberia’s forestry sector today. In February, the FDA said it banned kpokolo after a string of reports of irregularities by The DayLight.

So far, here is what we know about Kpokolo:

Kpokolo began in the 2010s

Kpokolo started in Liberia somewhere between 2010 and 2012, according to players in the informal subsector. One experienced chainsaw operator in Gbarpolu said a Malian national introduced it in Kinjor, Grand Cape Mount County.

Two big players in the underground subsector said it started around the mid-2010s or so. One said Sierra Leoneans introduced it here in 2015, while the others said 2016. A number of receipts and other documents, obtained from kpokolo producers support the dates.

Kpokolo means ‘thick and heavy’ in Kpelle

The word Kpokolo roughly translates “thick and heavy” in the Kpelle language. That is a reference to the nature of the timber, which are squared, compact and require an entire football team or a machine to lift it up.

Kpokolo dimensions range from anything between three inches high to 10 inches long, according to receipts related to the transportation of the wood. The most common measurement of the wood is five inches high, 10 inches wide and 12 inches long.

Shaped to Fit Neatly into a Container

Kpokolo timber are produced in square form so that they can fit neatly into containers. The DayLight has obtained a number of photographs from social media showing a host of kpokolo being packed into containers.

Men pack kpokolo in a container truck probably in Gbarpolu County. The DayLight

Kpokolo Advertised on Social Media

Looking for kpokolo managers and loggers? Check social media, particularly Facebook.

One example is Emmanuel Gongor, a serial kpokolo logger in Nimba County. Gongor’s Facebook posts show different aspects of his kpokolo operation. Some show him heading on bad roads, piling huge pieces of kpokolo and others show him and some men loading a truck with the wood. Perhaps, the coolest picture shows a bottle of water on a flat cutoff of a log with the caption, “Iroko wood for sale.” Iroko is a first-class timber.

Kpokolo operators use WhatsApp, too. For example, Hasan Uzan, one of the Turks arrested by the police and Varney Marshall, a former FDA ranger assigned in Bomi County, used WhatsApp.

Uzan has a number of Kpokolo-related pictures on his profile. It brandishes: “Tropical Timber Center West Africa.”

Marshall used his WhatsApp differently. He does not have pictures of his kpokolo operations there. However, last year, he shared videos and pictures of the operations with Isaac Richmond Anderson, a former staffer of the Liberian consulate in South Korea in a bid to partner with Anderson. Marshall was later relieved of his post, and he and Anderson have been indicted in another illegal logging deal.

Kpokolo Thrives on Misconceptions

Once you are a Liberian, and you have an article of incorporation and business registration, you can produce kpokolo, according to major kpokolo loggers The DayLight has interviewed. There is no need for an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA), a contract, a harvesting certificate and other requirements, according to them. Once you have the aforementioned documents, you are good to go.

Amid a lack of awareness of forestry legal frameworks, kpokolo players are inspired by these misconceptions. Legally, one must have a contract, an agreement with a community that has the right to enter an agreement, conduct an ESIA, obtain harvesting authorization and many other things. Also, transporting and exporting timber hinges on other requirements kpokolo operators sidestep.

Kpokolo Operators Target Expensive Wood

Kpokolo producers do not just go for any wood. They target hardwood, used for shipbuilding and outdoor construction, such as bridges. These timber contain a lot of oil in them, which makes them water-resistant and durable, according to experts.

There is a huge possibility that the kpokolo timber you have seen are ekki (azobe), dahoma and Iroko (Kambala). To give you some context here, a cubic meter of ekki sells for US$281, according to the International Timber Trading Organization (ITTO).

In some cases, kpokolo operators harvest class B wood such as Tali (sassawood).  

A pile of kpokolo in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Kpokolo Smugglers Target Asian Markets

Smugglers of kpokolo avoid Europe and target Asian markets, mainly China, India, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

The kpokolo underground trade avoids the European markets, which trade only legal timber. Liberia has a trade deal with the European Union called the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), which requires only legally and sustainably sourced wood for the European market. The smuggling of kpokolo is a violation of the VPA.

According to a number of online marketplaces or B2B platforms, Liberian businesses have exported containers of sawn timbers to those Asian countries. These include consignments from Askon Liberia General Trading Inc and Tropical Wood Group of Companies that ended up in India, according to one of the firms’ transactions.  

Villagers Play a Role

Villagers, too, play a role in the kpokolo trade.

Villagers own the forest adjacent to their communities as per the Community Rights Law and the Land Rights Act. However, they must seek the authorization of the FDA before they engage in logging activities.

This is not the case, chiefs, elders and farmers get into deals with loggers, mostly verbal agreements, and allow them to harvest trees. In exchange, the loggers pay a fee and, in some instances, conduct projects, including roads and bridges. In Darmo’s Town, a community in the Bopolu District of Gbarpolu County, a kpokolo operator built a bridge.

Smugglers Collude with Officials

Kpokolo smugglers take advantage of the legal use of containers to transport logs, the lack of due diligence and coordination between the FDA and shipping authorities, and collusion between corrupt officials and smugglers have helped fueled the illegal trade.

For instance, Assistant Minister for Trade Peter Somah aided Askon to smuggle at least two containers of timber to India in October 2020. 

Some pieces of kpokolo in a forest in Gbaryama, Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

The FDA itself plays a part

The most noteworthy player in kpokolo trafficking is the Forestry Development Authority. The FDA awards certain permits to kpokolo operators outside the log-tracking procedure called the chain of custody system.

Back in March, Edward Kamara, FDA’s manager for forest product marketing and revenue forecast, announced that the agency has issued “tens of permits.”  

A small consignment of kpokolo timber from Grand Cape Mount County is seen impounded at an FDA checkpoint in Klay, Bomi County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

The announcement had been coming for months. Announcing the unofficial ban on kpokolo in February, Kamara admitted that the FDA had awarded kpokolo loggers permits to trade locally. However, he said, “timber arrested for attempting to illegally export consisted of these dimensions. Therefore, it is the chainsaw milling block wood… that is banned to be brought to the market, especially in Monrovia.”

What Kamara did not say was that the permits the agency issued to kpokolo operators did not go through the chain of custody system and that the fees it collected did not go into government coffers. The same goes for funds related to the transportation of the wood. These are serious violations of the National Forestry Reform Law and the Regulation on the Establishment of a Chain of Custody System


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

Police Arrest Turkish Men In End of Illegal Logging Activities

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Top: (R-L) Hasan Uzan and Umit Gungor at the police station in Nimba on Thursday. Picture Credit: Forestry Development Authority


By Mark B. Newa


  • Police have arrested two Turkish nationals for alleged illegal logging between Ganta and Sanniquellie, Nimba County.
  •  Hasan Uzan and Umit Gungor are undergoing preliminary investigation, while authorities are in pursuit of two other Turkish nationals  
  • There is still no action against Assistant Minister of Trade Peter Somah and another Liberian who helped the company smuggle timber  

MONROVIA – Police in Nimba County have arrested two of a number of Turkish loggers for illegal logging activities, forestry authorities said.

Hasan Uzan and Umit Gungor of Askon Liberia General Trading Inc. are in police custody following their arrest last night, according to Cllr. Yanquoi Dolo, the head of the Forestry Development Authority’s legal team.

“Two of the Turkish guys were arrested last night by FDA rangers,” Dolo told The DayLight via WhatsApp. “They are currently in police custody.”

Forest rangers had been in pursuit of the men and other Turks for illegal logging operations between Ganta and Sanniquellie. They abused the terms of their sawmill license by harvesting timber in some of Nimba County’s vast rainforests, the FDA said in a press release on Tuesday.  

The FDA has also banned Askon from forestry activities and barred Hasan Uzan, Faith Uzan and Yeter Uzan.

Authorities are still looking for Yeter Uzan and Faith Uzan, Askon’s two other shareholders. Hasan Uzan holds the majority of the company’s shares (80 percent) of Askon, a company he cofounded in November 2017, according to it’s legal documents. Yeter Uzan holds 10 percent and Faith Uzan five percent. The other five percent of shares are outstanding.  Hasan Uzan and Gungor did not respond to WhatsApp messages. Efforts to talk to Yeter and Faith Uzan did not materialize.

Askon`s campsite with block wood seen piled up TheDayLight/Gerald Koinyenneh

Umit Gungor, the man arrested alongside Hasan Uzan, works for Askon. Gungor arrived in Liberia in 2020, according to Askon’s tax payment record.  

The two men are undergoing a preliminary investigation in Saclepea, according to Dolo.

“This is a criminal offense, so the police are investigating them,” Dolo said. “They were arrested last night, and tomorrow being Friday, by Monday, they will be arraigned for the court.”

In March, an investigation by The DayLight brought Askon’s illegal activities to light. The investigation showed Askon harvested timber from Nimba in huge volumes and smuggled them via containers.  

Analyzing Hasan Uzan’s social media accounts, online business platforms, and an illegal export permit, the story proved Askon trafficked timber outside of Liberia’s legal system.   

For instance, in October 2020, Askon smuggled two containers of first-class, expensive timber to India. Hasan Uzan declined to comment on the operation for that story.

Tax payment record shows that Askon did not obtain resident and work permits for its foreign workers.

Felling trees without a contract is an offense under the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products. The Turkish nationals face a six-month prison term, a fine of three times the price of timber they harvested, or both, according to the regulation.

No Action Against Assistant Minister

The FDA has not taken any actions against   Assistant Minister of Trade Peter Somah, who assisted Askon to smuggle timber, and Sylvester Suah, another Liberian accomplice.     

It was Somah who issued a permit to Askon to export timber to India. He collected US$19,800 for the two containers, the permit shows. Akson’s tax payment record also shows that the money did not go to the Liberian government. That was a violation of forestry legal frameworks, which require all payments made to the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA).  Somah did not respond to WhatsApp messages. He had not spoken directly to questions posed to him during the course of The DayLight’s investigation.

The permit issued to Askon by the assistant minister of commerce, Peter Somah
Peter Somah, Assistant Minister for Trade at the Ministry of Commerce awarded an illegal permit to Askon leading the Turkish company to ship two containers of timber to India in 2020. Picture credit: Facebook/Peter D. Somah

Suah, on the other hand, helped establish Askon. He made a number of trips to Istanbul between November 2015 and December 2016, according to his Facebook account. Pictures he posted on  Facebook show him taking selfies and having dinner with his would-be business associates. Not long after, Askon was established.

Suah did not reply to WhatsApp messages. “When I am ready, I will write my own story,” Suah said in March when quizzed on his connection with Askon.

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

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