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Illegal Miners Invade Community Forest


Top: Mineworkers of an unidentified company have invaded the Bondi Mandingo Forest in Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

By Esau J. Farr

GBARQUOITA – Illegal miners have encroached on a community forest in Gbarpolu County, felling trees, polluting streams and digging huge pits in their relentless mining for gold.

The miners set up a camp in the Bondi Mandingo Authorized Community Forest surrounded by large, deep pits, used as fences. The DayLight saw armed anti-riot police officers guarding the camp.

Asian mineworkers—based on their language and appearances—and others with a Ghanaian accent transferred gravels through excavators to a planting.  The staffers interviewed corroborated the reporter’s observation of the miner’s nationalities. The miners arrived there last December,  according to locals.

Our reporter photographed several trees felled by the company as well as large pits and dirt mounds. The miners have polluted the only creek in the area used by locals.

The name of the miner’s company is a mystery. It is called “JM Mining” in a letter from chiefs and elders, seen by The DayLight.  A court document also refers to it as “Harming Mining Group of Companies.”

None of the two names are in the Ministry of Mines and Energy’s records. There are only three active, medium-scale mining licenses—consistent with the company’s operations—in Gbarpolu up to press time. None of the three licenses was granted for the area where the company operates.

The miners set up a camp in the community forest after entering it without authorization. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

Abraham Mulbah, a representative of the unidentified company, evaded several attempts for an interview. Mulbah had postponed an initial interview on the ground that he was visiting an ailing relative. He asked the reporter to meet him in Bopolu, promising to share copies of the mystery company’s documents. However, Mulbah did not turn out at the venue of the interview he had given.

Follow-up efforts the reporter made to get the documents failed, including connecting the newspaper with the company’s owners.

The mystery company signed an illegal memorandum of understanding (MoU) with locals of Gbarquoita to mine gold in the Kpo Mountain in early May this year, according to locals. They had arrived there for exploration in December last year.

Armed with the MoU, the company is forcibly buying local artisanal miners’ claims, assisted by chiefs and elders. Miners Fatu Quemue and George Berrian have all been asked to surrender their mining claims. Mulbah had shared their documents with The DayLight when the reporter tracked him down at the goldmine.

“We write to inform you that the mining land you previously [occupied] had officially been [turned] over to the J.M. Mining by the citizens of [Gbarquoita],” a letter from the community to Berrian read.

A worksite of illicit miners in the Bondi Mandingo Forest. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

Berrain told The DayLight he accepted the proposal under duress, and he did not get the full amount the supposed company promised. “What I have on the land should be paid for.”

The DayLight obtained Quemue’s and Berrian’s documents, showing they were granted licenses. However, the ministry’s records show the pair have not surrendered or transferred their license for that area. Quemue’s license remains active. Berrian’s license is yet to be reactivated after renewal in April, a Liberia Revenue Authority receipt shows. Efforts to interview Quemue were unsuccessful, as The DayLight did not get her phone number.

‘Stupid’ and ‘Foolish’

Gbarquoita’s negotiation with the unidentified company violates the Community Rights Law… that created community forestry. The town is one of six that own the Bondi Mandingo Forest.

A letter from Gbarquoita to artisanal miners who have claims in the Bondi Mandingo Forest

Bondi Mandingo was authorized by the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) in 2018. Covering  37,222 hectares, and has been under contract with Indo Africa Plantation Liberia Limited ever since. However, the Singaporean loggers abandoned the contract.

Gbarquoita is exploiting the contract’s failure with the signing of the MoU—unapologetically.

“We are happy because we have been suffering for long,” said Habakkuk Jallah, the Town Chief of Gbarpquoita. 

“Since the government of Liberia built a clinic for us over five to six years ago, there have not been medicines at the clinic. The company is now going to put medicine there…,” Jallah added. He said the MoU with the miners mandates them to provide hand pumps and 150 solar lights. Efforts to get the MoU did not materialize.

But the Community Rights Law does not give the Gbarquoita the right to unilaterally negotiate a contract. That power solely lies in the hands of Bondi Mandingo’s community forest management body (CFMB).   

L-R: Mark Dennis, the chief officer of the Bondi Mandingo Forest, and Habakkuk Jallah, the Town Chief of Gbarquoita. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

Mark Dennis, the chief officer of the CFMB, told The DayLight the company prevented them from entering the forest.

“We made our way through there to see the level of destruction that was done,” Dennis said of the February incident. “When we got there, they chased us [out] with their machine.”

Not long after his ordeal, the leadership of the Bondi Mandingo sued the illegal miners. The lawsuit alleges the miners threatened to “teach” Dennis and co “a lesson,” calling them “stupid” and “foolish.”

Charges the miners face include criminal trespass, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct, filings of the Bopolu City Magisterial Court show.

The lawsuit requests US$500,000 for alleged damages to forest resources. It cites one Isaac and another man only identified as Sao and all of the company’s operators as defendants.

The men were arrested but released on bail, according to court records.

The case commences on Wednesday.

The United States Embassy in Monrovia funded this story. The DayLight maintained editorial independence over the story’s content.

Sand Mining Company Operates Illegally In Virginia


Top: Lichi has operated in Virginia for more than a decade. Its license expired in June 2023 but is still operating in the area. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By Tina S. Mehnpaine, with Daily Observer  

VIRGINIA – Sailing over the St. Paul River, the dredging machine moves slowly from one point of the water to another in Waterside, Virginia.

Residents here are worried that the continuous dredging of sand from the river would cause erosion and affect their homes. But for Lichi Inc., sales are important so the dredging continues.

“We are suffering here bad way,” said Yamah Washington, who lives along the river. “The dust, no respect for us. The trucks are running 24\7.”

But Lichi should not have been in Virginia in the first place, at least not for the last 10 months. The Ministry Mines and Energy records show that its class B license expired on June 29 last year, it has not been renewed. All Class B licenses must be renewed every five years, according to Liberia’s Minerals and Mining Law. The company had been awarded the sand-mining license in 2012.

The Daily Observer visited the company’s site, excavators were seen hauling sand from the dredging machines at the bank of the river.

The failure of Lichi to renew its lesson while still operating defrauds the government of Liberia of U$10,000—the fees for a medium-scale mining license.  

Lichi was established in 2011 and is owned by Ikechukwu Godwin Ejideaku (40 percent), Francis Iyke Nwosu (30 percent) and Aruna Lahah (30 percent), according to the company’s article of incorporation. However, it has several employed Chinese miners.

Allegation of bribery

Lahah, also Lichi’s financial and tax consultant, admitted that the company has an expired license.  “Last year we did not pay, we are owing for last year and this year,” Lahah told the Daily Observer.  

Lahah blamed former Assistant Minister for Mines,  Emmanuel Swen, for  Lichi not renewing its license. He accused Swen of soliciting a bribe from the company to approve its renewal but presented no evidence.

“Minister Swen was collecting huge money from companies before he gave you a payment form to pay government tax, and we were not in the position to give him money for 2023.” 

A Lichi truck collects sand on the Roberts International Airport Highway. The DayLight/Harry Browne

Swen denies that accusation, saying that he requested Lichi to present a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between it and the community, which Lichi failed to provide.

“When we took over I didn’t know they didn’t have MOU so I noticed it in the second year. I asked them to produce it they appealed that it would require negotiation with the community.  So, I signed their license that year with the understanding that they shall negotiate with the community,” Swen said. 

“That year ended when they came for renewal so I insisted that I could not authorize the renewal of that license until they came with the MoU. At that point, I had to travel for studies I didn’t process the document. Since I came back, I [don’t] remember them coming to the office to meet up with me for processing of the license until we transitioned,” Swen added.

Daily Observer obtained a copy of the MoU in question, which shows the document was drafted in June and finalized in October 2021, the same month Swen traveled to London for studies.

CORRECTION: This version of the story corrects the details on Lichi’s shareholders from Vaanii Baker and Peter Scot in the previous version to Ikechukwu Godwin Ejideaku, Francis Iyke Nwosu and Aruna Lahah.

The story was a collaboration between The DayLight and Daily Observer. The United States Embassy in Monrovia provided funding for this story. Daily Observer and The DayLight maintained editorial independence over the story’s content.

Illegal Miners Set to Spoil Sacred Creek in Gbarpolu


Top: Men make a dredging machine on the Zormue Creek in Bokomu District, Gbarpolu County after Weedor Gee, the owner, obtained clearance from the local representative of the Ministry of Mines. Picture credit: Korninga A Community Forest 

By James Harding Giahyue

ZORMU, Gbarpolu – Illegal miners are set to dredge a sacred creek in a town in the Bopolu District of Gbarpolu County. 

The miners who work for Weedor Gee, a businesswoman who hails from the region, built dredge on the Tumu Creek. Gee has no prior history of holding a mining license, records of the Ministry of Mines and Energy show. 

Tumu Creek is revered in the Korninga Chiefdom, and it is a sacrilege to even put a canoe over it without a traditional rite, locals say. 

Initial videos and photographs obtained by The DayLight show the miners building the machine. Others taken a week later reveal two miners assembling the makeshift machine on the creek, ready to operate. 

In 2019, the ministry imposed a moratorium on dredging nationwide. The suspension, which is still in place, was meant to curb the pollution of water bodies across the country and the degradation of the rural environment. 

But the dredging and other forms of illicit mining continue to proliferate in remote regions, polluting streams and threatening local traditions.

A copy of a clearance Samuel Fahn, a Ministry of Mines and Energy representative in Bopolu District, Gbarpolu County, issued to Weedor Gee. Gee built a dredge on Tumu Creek, a sacred water in the Konringa Chiefdom.

Samuel Fahn, the mining representative in the region, had issued Gee a clearance late last month. Gee paid Fahn US$400 for the clearance, with both of them confirming the transaction.  

Clearance fees for mining agents are not legal but are accepted by authorities. An outgoing official of the ministry, who asked for anonymity, said it was meant to empower mining agents to function. 

The leadership of the Korninga A Community Forest, in which the creek is located, raised qualms about the dredge, based on the videos and pictures. 

“The document says class C but the materials they are carrying are for dredging,” said Emery Ciapha, the acting chairman of the Korninga A Community Forest. 

“I know that the… Ministry of Mines and Energy is not offering a license for dredging in this country,” Ciapha added in an interview in Tawalata Town. He said he would monitor the situation “closely.”

Gee said in a phone interview that dredging would keep illicit miners away. “We want to stop people from invading our farmland, that is the main issue that carried me there,” she said. 

“It is just to stop people from [encroaching on] the land because if a person gets a license, you cannot stop them from doing what they want to do. 

“If you have the land and get a claim, you can do what you want to do with it,” Gee added. 

Experts say illicit miners or wildcat miners pollute water sources in towns and villages, thanks to the remoteness of these places and corrupt mining authorities. The creek in Tawalata Town in Bopolu District, Gbarpolu County is one of their victims. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Gee disclosed that she had thought about farming but changed her mind to mining based on someone’s advice.  She decided to dredge because it produced quicker results than mining on the land or the banks of the creek. 

A dredge uses a vacuum to suck out mud and debris from the bottom of a water body. Then a water pump removes unwanted sediments and traps gold nuggets on a slanted platform. The process involves less labor but pollutes the water environment and makes it inhabitable for fish, experts say.  

Fahn denies authorizing the businesswoman to dredge the creek. “I did not tell them to use dredge. If I come and see anyone mining with dredge, I will close them down,” he told The DayLight. Fahn had made those comments about a week before The DayLight obtained evidence that Gee built the dredge. 

Gee refutes Fahn’s claims, though.  She counterclaims that he was aware of her intent to dredge the creek from the beginning. She failed to provide any evidence to back that claim. 

“Each time he goes there, he asks, ‘Where is the [dredge’s] key?’ 

“We say, ‘Here is the key. We are not working. “He says, ‘Are you working?’ We say, ‘No, we are working.’” Gee said she did not know dredging was outlawed and Fahn did not inform her. 

A mineworker inspects a frame for a makeshift dredge owned by Weedor Gee, a first-time miner in Zormue Town, Gbarpolu County. Picture credit: Korninga A Community Forest 

Fahn did not answer calls for a reply to Gee’s comments and he did not return the call. However, Fahn said in his original interview that the creek was mentioned so that Gee’s mineworkers could work on the banks of Tumu Creek. 

The clearance also appears to vindicate him. The document marks class C as the license type. Multiple sources familiar with the industry said Fahn mentioned the creek to locate the claim, not to authorize dredging. 

Asked about her relationship with traditional authorities, Gee said she had the support of chiefs and elders as their daughter. 

George Ballah Sumo, the Paramount Chief of Korninga Chiefdom, denies that claim. 

“Nobody has met up with my office about dredging,” Sumo said. “I will not allow people to dredge on that water because it will destroy the water source.” 

Sumo said the community would only accept a medium or large-scale mine there to build its road network. 

Mining on a sacred site without the authorization of local chiefs and elders is prohibited under the Minerals and Mining Law.

Funding for this story was provided by the United States Embassy. The DayLight maintained editorial independence over the story’s content.

Illegal Miners Mine Sand in Historic Beach Graveyard

created by dji camera

Top: Jatoken Mining Inc. is one of several mining companies that have been awarded licenses to mine zircon sand in Liberia. Drone photograph by Derick Snyder

By Emmanuel Sherman and Tenneh Kieta 

BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa County – Large holes and sand piles lie on the beachfront, not too far from the graves of some of the forefathers of Liberia, including Stephen Allan Benson, Liberia’s second president.  Water seeps into the pits as the sunray hardens the sand piles like termite mounds.

Be not deceived for they are not a sign of renovation works on the final resting place of the pioneers. They are evidence of an illegal mining operation that once threatened the existence of this historic graveyard and its quiet, seaside neighborhood.

Last August, Jatoken Mining Incorporated, a majority-Chinese-owned company, arrived in Upper Buchanan with its machines. They began mining zircon sand, a mineral used in the ceramics and electronics industries. Locals call it black sand.

Locals were shocked. The representative of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and local authority had not informed them about Jatoken’s activities. Moreover, it is a violation to mine in a graveyard.

“When they [first] came they said they wanted to do prospecting on the beach because we have black sand,” recalled Joe Russell, the town chief of the Upper Buchanan community. “When they came again, they did not consult me and began digging.”

News of the operation claimed the attention of Dr. Laurence Bropleh, then a presidential advisor, who hails from that area. Bropleh helped stop Jatoken’s mineworkers. “They can seek other places to go,” Bropleh told The DayLight. “We are protecting the serenity and historicity of our place.”

The police and Emmanuel O. Sherman (no relation to the reporter), then the Deputy Minister for Operations at the Ministry of Mines, investigated the matter. A Chinese woman only identified as Caroline presented a mining license, according to Bropleh and other residents.

Sherman reviewed the document and told her it was fake, according to Bropleh, Eddie Williams, a representative of the Office of the Superintendent of Grand Bassa County, and other people. The police then drove the miners away.

The DayLight was not able to obtain a copy of the license in question. However, the newspaper photographed large mining pits, sand piles and earthmovers impressions Jatoken left behind, scarring Upper Buchanan’s pristine, grassy seafront.

Jatoken has never obtained a license to operate in Grand Bassa County, records of the Ministry of Mines show. All of its licenses are for Montserrado and Sinoe, according to the records.

The ministry’s records suggest that none of Jatoken’s zircon licenses has been surrendered, canceled, suspended, or placed under review as of February 3, 2024. An online repository run by the ministry tracks the statuses of licenses. The fact there is no entry in the system for Jatoken in Bassa proves the one Jatoken presented was fake.

When contacted, Sherman declined The DayLight an interview, forwarding the newspaper to Emmanuel Swen, then Assistant Minister for Mines. Swen said he did not have any idea about the issue and could not speak on it.

By law, the Ministry of Mines should have pressed charges against Jatoken. Forging a mining license is an offense under the Minerals and Mining Law of Liberia. Violators face between a US$1,000 and US$2,000 fine or a prison term of two to three months. However, the ministry rarely prosecutes anyone for a mining violation. The DayLight reported last year that Jatoken was ineligible to do business in Liberia due to its illegal papers but authorities took no action. Other illegal activities in River Cess, Montserrado and Nimba last year—one involving Minister of Justice-designate Cooper Kruah—suffered the same fate.

Official records show that Jatoken is one of the companies awarded zircon licenses across the country. That violates a 2012 moratorium on beach sand mining imposed to ease coastal erosion countrywide, with Buchanan the epicenter. The city has lost entire communities to violent waves scientists say are an impact of climate change. So far, Upper Buchanan has been spared and residents hope it stays that way.

“We are protecting Upper Buchanan. We are protecting Liberia,” Bropleh said.

 “My house may go. I may be able to afford to build another house but what about the rest [of the people] and all the rich history?” He added.

Illegal company

The DayLight’s initial investigation on Jatoken found it amended its article of incorporation twice but failed to register the changes with the Liberia Business Registry. To prevent money laundering, terrorism financing and other crimes, the Business Association Law requires companies to register all changes in their legal documents.

Impact of sea erosion, Gbalaweh town, Kokowein, Buchanan, Grand Bassa The Daylight/Emmanuel Sherman

The investigation also found that Jatoken may have amended its article of incorporation without the consent of one of its owners, Tibelrosa Tarponweh, the former Margibi lawmaker.

Tarponweh and Jianjun Haung, a Chinese national, established the company in 2014, named after Tarponweh’s hometown in River Gee. The former Margibi lawmaker has 15 percent of the company’s shares and 85 percent of shares for the Jianjun, according to Jatoken’s article of incorporation with the business registry.

On July 3, 2019, Jatoken illegally amended its legal documents and transferred Tarponweh shares to another person. It did another unlawful amendment on September 29, 2021, its tax history shows.

But the former lawmaker said that he was unaware of those amendments. Tarponweh claimed that his signature on the company’s resolution to remove him as a shareholder was forged.

Swen did not dismiss Tarponweh’s accusation at the time. He promised to launch an investigation once Tarponweh filed a complaint with the ministry, though The DayLight provided evidence of the Jatoken’s disqualification.  

In March last year, Tarponweh said he would lodge a complaint with the ministry and sue Jatoken for alleged forgery. He repeated that again in a phone interview with The DayLight last week.  “Now that the elections are over I am ready to pursue my case,” Tarponweh said. 

Effort to contact the Chinese woman only identified as Caroline, who is Jatoken’s manager, proved futile. She evaded several attempts by The DayLight for an interview, and did not respond to WhatsApp messages and a number of phone calls. It was The DayLight’s second failed attempt in a year to speak to a representative of Jatoken over a report on the company’s illegal activities.

Funding for this story was provided by the United States Embassy in Monrovia. The DayLight maintained editorial independence the story’s content.

Ex-Minister Leaves Government With A Trail of Illegal Acts


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).

Ministry of Mines Issues Fake License Likely To Cover Up Illegal MoU


Top: A pit dug by Urban and Rural Services Inc. in Todee, Montserrado County. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

By Esau J. Farr

  • The Ministry of Mines and Energy awarded a company a fake license whose information matches that of an expired license in a bid to cover up an illegal memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the company and Todee District
  • Montserrado lawmaker Lawrence Morris and Superintendent Florence Brandy signed the illegal MoU, carved on a paper with the letterhead of the National Legislature
  • Urban and Rural Services Inc. did not have a mining license before signing the five-year MoU, in which it agreed to pay the community an estimated US$41,000 to mine in the mineral-potential region
  • This investigation exposed how the Ministry of Mines in the past unlawfully awarded the company licenses nearly six times above what it paid for and three times the legal limits    

MONROVIA –The Ministry of Mines and Energy has used a fake license in an apparent attempt to justify an illegal Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between a mining company and Todee District, which Representative Lawrence Morris and Superintendent Florence Brandy of Montserrado endorsed.

The February 1 MoU, written on a paper with the letterhead of the National Legislature, sanctioned the company to mine on 90.18 acres of land in the Ding-Gola Chiefdom, according to the document.

In April, an investigation by The DayLight found out that Urban and Rural Services Inc., owned by one Prince Nah, did not have a valid mining license prior to the signing of the MoU. All six of the company’s licenses have expired and remained so up to press time. Mining without a license is a violation of the Minerals and Mining Law, punishable by not more than US$2,000 or up to 24 months of imprisonment, or both the fine and prison term, upon trial.

But in an apparent attempt to cover up the illegal MoU and clear the names of Representative Morris, Superintendent Brandy and Urban of wrongdoing, the ministry issued the company a fake license.

The bogus prospecting license was purportedly issued on January 31 by the Assistant Minister for Mineral Exploration and Environmental Research, Rexford Sartuh, and Director of the Liberia Geological Survey, Jefferson Chea. 

Assistant Minister for Exploration and Mineral Research Rexford Sartuh awarded a fake license to Urban and Rural Services Inc. seemingly to cover up an illegal MoU between the company and Todee District. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“The license is hereby granted by the government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Mines and Energy… to Urban and Rural Services…,” the falsified document read. “This license entitles the licensee to explore for minerals identified… in the prospecting area…”

The document, obtained by The DayLight, bears the code of an expired license Urban held between 2019 and 2021 to prospect for gold in Todee, according to official records.

The fake license’s geographical positioning system (GPS) points also match those of the expired document. This literally means Sartuh authorized Urban to dig in the same pit it prospected between 2019 and 2021, which is unlawful.    

A search on the ministry’s online repository—a landmark tool that enhances transparency and accountability—using the code will take you to the expired license, not the fake one. There is no trace of the fake one there. (Every license has a unique code.) Even the Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI) captured the expired license in its 2020-2021 report with the license code.

Forging a mining license is a violation of the mining law. It requires violators to pay US$1,000 or US$2,000, or between spend two or three months in prison after conviction.  

People in Todee were aware that Urban did not have an active license when it signed the MoU. Some distanced themselves from it, including Bendu Kotoe, a women’s leader in Ding Clan, which hosts the Kponneh Mountain.

“The mining license they are supposed to bring, we have not seen it yet.  So, we don’t agree for them to work,” said Kotoe back in March.  

The illegal memorandum of understanding between Urban and Rural Services Inc. and the people of Todee. The license’s code and its global positioning system (GPS) points are identical to a license the company held between 2019 and 2022.

Mohammed Sheriff, a representative of Urban, conceded its MoU and operations were illegal, and that they were working to correct their wrongdoing.  

“Recently, we had a guest from the Ministry of Mine and Energy, I think a regional agent,” Sheriff told The DayLight in an interview. “He advised us to have a legal license to avoid future embarrassment with authorities, and myself I agreed with him.”  Sheriff, who did not identify the regional officer, echoed that in a follow-up interview on Monday, almost two months after he last spoke with this reporter.

Cooper Vooker Pency, the Director of the Cadastre Information Management Unit, confirmed Urban did not have a license. Pency supervises the processing of applications for mining management of licenses throughout its lifespan.

The DayLight had raised a qualm in an email to Pency that Urban’s licenses were not visible on the repository. Pency then sent a screenshot of Urban’s expired licenses, including the one whose details Sartuh had forged. Pency reset the repository to allow Urban’s expired licenses to reflect. “Expired and other categories of licenses have been added to the repository,” Pency said in his reply to The DayLight.

While the details of the prospecting license match the information of Urban’s expired license, both documents are inconsistent with the illegal MoU. The MoU is for five years, 10 times the lifespan of the fake prospecting license Sartuh issued and consistent with a class B license.  

The cost of a prospecting license and the value of the MoU are other issues. Urban is due to pay the community almost ten times the fee for a prospecting license: US$125. It must pay Todee US$1,000 annually and L$100,000 monthly to affected communities, based on the MoU. That is an estimated US$41,000 over the five-year period, according to The DayLight’s calculations. In fact, Urban has already paid for a month as of March 29, according to residents and Sheriff.

Urban’s license and payment history seemingly pinpoints it is evading taxes. All six of the expired licenses were prospecting licenses. Normally, after prospecting, companies obtain either an artisanal mining or class C license or a class B mining license. These licenses are costlier than a prospecting license, with class C costing US$150 and class B US$10,000.  

It appears Urban was hiding behind a prospecting license while it engaged in class B mining activities in Todee. Pieces of equipment this reporter photographed suggest the company had been mining in the area, not just researching. This reporter photographed an improvised device used to wash gold, commonly called kata-kata machine. There were also earthmovers and other equipment, and the company has already reset up a camp in the area and paved roads. Todee is part of a region geologists say has the highest potential for the minerals in Liberia. Its rock—important for mineral formation—are some of the oldest in the country and the Mano River region.   

Overstayed Licenses

The DayLight’s review of LRA records revealed shocking details. The two prospecting licenses Urban has held in Todee lasted for three years. As the one Sartuh forged, the other license was also awarded in 2019 and expired in 2022, official records show. That is another violation of the mining law, which limits the lifespan of a prospecting license to at most one year.

Our review also revealed that Urban only paid for four of its six initial prospecting licenses. That is a revenue loss of about US$1,750, according to our calculation, taking into consideration the extension of the old licenses and the acquisition of new ones.

Records of the Ministry of Mines and Energy show that Urban and Rural Services Inc. does not have an active license.
Urban held two licenses in Todee between 2019 and 2022 that unlawfully lasted for nearly three years.

Urban actually paid US$125 for a new prospecting license on January 24 this year, according to the LRA. However, that license has not been awarded, as it is still being validated, based on the ministry’s records.

It was unclear whether Urban declared any volume of gold as the law mandates. Its production is not captured in the LEITI report neither does the LRA record show it paid any royalties on the export of gold. Illicit mining reduces the government’s revenue by millions, according to a 2021 report by the General Auditing Commission (GAC).  

Randy Scott, an executive of the company, denies any wrongdoing amid the plentiful pieces of evidence. Scott argued that he was not the one who issued the license and therefore he should not be held liable for any violations.

Asked why Urban held the prospecting licenses for more than one year, he blamed it on the coronavirus pandemic. “When did the government stop people from mining here?” Scott said. “You were not here during the COVID-19 period?

But Scott’s points are not backed by facts. First, the government did not halt mining processes across the country. And prospecting licenses the ministry issued during the same time Urban’s, including in the very Todee, lasted for exactly six months.    

For his part, Representative Morris previously said he put the MoU on his office’s letterhead to give it credibility, and that he wanted to be held responsible for any outcome of the document.     

Later in the interview, he said he had thought the MoU was for exploration, not for mining. His statement is not backed by facts, as the MoU clearly authorizes Urban to “carry out gold mining activities.”

“I do not work for the [Ministry of] Mines and Energy, and if I had not done my due diligence…, I wouldn’t have gone forward,” Morris said via WhatsApp. “How am I supposed to know a fake license from a real one?”

Sartuh and Chea did not respond to emails, text messages, and phone calls in two weeks for comments. Chea failed to grant an interview, despite promising on two occasions. He did not also return WhatsApp and text messages.  

Meanwhile, Residents of Todee have threatened to protest over  Urban’s alleged mining in a river there, according to the Liberia Broadcasting System. They have given the company a two-week ultimatum to halt all dredging activities, which are banned in Liberia.

Funding for this story was provided by the Green Livelihood Alliance (GLA 2.0) through the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over the story’s content.

Montserrado Authorities Approve Illegal Mining Operations in Todee


Top: Urban and Rural Services Inc. Current Campsite at the Kponneh Mountain in Todee District

By Esau J. Farr

TODEE – Representative Lawrence Morris of Montserrado District Number One, and County Superintendent Florence Brandy have signed an illegal memorandum of understanding authorizing a company to mine gold in the mineral-potential district of Todee.  

Morris and Brandy signed the MoU on February 1, 2023, and approved the MoU between the three clans of Todee and Urban and Rural Services Inc. though the company did not have a license or a business registration.

Statutory Superintendent John Tucker, chiefs, and other local leaders signed the illegal document. A Chinese national Wn Xue Cheng signed for Urban and Rural Services Inc.  The MoU is written on the official letterhead of the House of Representatives.

The document grants Urban and Rural Services the right to mine gold in the Kponneh Mountain for five years beginning February 2023 and ending 2028.  

As part of the MoU, the company is expected to construct ten handpumps in the three clans within Todee during the first year of its operation.

The company also agreed to mend bridges in the area and recondition clinics annually for use by the locals. In addition, the company is expected to also install 50 solar lights in major towns.

“Whereas, Urban and Rural Services Inc. agrees that an amount of one thousand United States (US$1,000) dollars per annual must be used for the educational sector of Todee Statutory District to improve the learning condition of schools in the district,” the MoU says.

The document allotted L$100,000 to the district monthly, with 50 percent of that amount for the Ding Clan, which hosts the Kponneh Mountain.

For all of that, Urban will mine gold in the area from 2023 to 2028.

Owned by a Liberian businessman named Prince Nah Williams, Urban and Rural Services Inc. was founded in 2018, according to its article of incorporation at the Liberia Business Registry. It held six gold prospecting licenses in Todee, Lofa and River Cess, all of which have expired, according to records of the Ministry of Mines and Energy. The ministry’s records show Urban prospected for gold in Todee, but the two licenses it held for the area expired in 2019. All of its other licenses expired in 2021.

Mining without a license violates the Minerals and Mining Law while running an unregistered business breaks the Business Association Law. The former violation carries a US$10,000 fine, a 12-month prison term, or both.

Urban’s mining machine in Todee the company used during its time of prospecting. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

Its work also violates the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia due to the failure of the company to seek environmental approval. Mohammed Sirleaf, Urban’s liaison officer, said a team from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had visited Urban’s worksite and cautioned them. Violators of the law face up to 10 years of imprisonment, a US$25,000 fine, or both.

Sirleaf conceded its operations are illegal. He said they were in the process of acquiring the right to mine in Todee through the acquisition of a valid mining license.

“Recently, we had a guest from the Ministry of Mine and Energy—I think a Regional Agent—and he advised us to have a legal license to avoid future embarrassment with authorities,” Sirleaf said.

Some residents are aware of the illegality of the document.

Bendu Kotoe, a women’s leader in Ding Clan refused to sign it. “The mining license they are supposed to bring, we have not seen it yet. So, we don’t agree for them to work,” Kotoe said.  

Paramount Kanakour regretted signing the document upon speaking to The DayLight. “For me, I am not aware of this and I am not in the mining sector. I don’t know the criteria for getting a mining license. So, if they are saying they don’t have the rightful documents, the government can take its course [of action],” he said.

A screenshot of records of the Ministry of Mines and Energy shows that Urban and Rural Services Inc. does not have any active mining licenses.

“We have a committee set up to look into such matters,” he added.

When contacted, Brandy claimed she only attested to the illegal MoU. “I am not the one who signed the MoU. You are a journalist, do your investigation and see who all signed it and who attested to it,” Brandy told this paper in a telephone interview.

Contrary to her claim, Brandy actually signed the document. In fact, it was Representative Morris who attested to it.

Brandy also claimed the MoU was meant to only get Todee’s consent for Urban to operate in the area. However, DayLight’s visit to the area showed that the company has already started its operations. This reporter saw mining equipment paving roads in the area and mineworkers building a camp.

Moreover, Urban has already started paying host communities. Sirleaf said the company had already paid the L$100,000 for February, the beginning of the agreement. The Paramount Chief Kanakour confirmed the payment. The Land Rights Act recognizes rural communities’ right to consent to projects on their lands but does not require payment for that consent.

Representative Morris, in whose district Todee falls, said he attested to the document because he did not know Urban’s licenses had expired. Later in the interview, he said he had thought the MoU was for exploration, not for mining. His statement is not backed by facts, as the MoU clearly authorizes Urban to “carry out gold mining activities.”

On using the letterhead of the National Legislature for the MoU, Morris said he did that on purpose.

“We used my official legislative letterhead because I want to take responsibility for anything coming out of the MoU,” Rep. Morris said in the interview.

Funding for this story was provided by the Green Livelihood Alliance (GLA 2.0) through the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over the story’s content.

Lawmaker Campaigning Against Miners ‘Unaware’ Of His Company’s Illegal Mine

created by dji camera

Top: A drone shot of a zircon sand mine in Greenville, Sinoe. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

By James Harding Giahyue and Gerald C. Koinyeneh

MONROVIA; GREENVILLE – In late January, Representative Tibelrosa Tarponweh of Margibi County District Number One accused  Liberia Mineral Export Inc. of violating a suspension of its mining operations in Marshall, Margibi County.

“This is causing [a] serious environmental hazard for our people,” Tarponweh told members of the House of Representatives at the time, requesting the body summoned the Minister of Mines and Energy Gesler Murray. “What we want is our people must be protected, irrespective of our individual financial interests. This company is operating illegally.” The House’s joint committee on mines, energy and environment, and judiciary is investigating the matter.  

But an investigation by The DayLight found Tarponweh, too, co-owns a mining company with a Chinese national in Sinoe County. The lawmaker holds 15 percent shares in Jatoken Mining Inc., according to the company’s article of incorporation at the Liberia Business Registry. Tarponweh is also the firm’s registered agent, an individual who serves as a point of contact. Jianjun Huang, a Chinese national, holds the remaining 85 percent of the company’s shares.

Named after Tarponweh’s hometown in River Gee, Jatoken runs a semi-industrial-scare or a class B mine in the Sanquian District, records of the Ministry of Mines and Energy show. It also holds a gold dealership license and has held other licenses after Tarponweh became a lawmaker in 2017.

Interestingly, Jotoken mines zircon sand, the same mineral the Liberia Mineral Export is extracting in Margibi, which drew Tarponweh’s criticism. Moreover, Jatoken’s mine falls within Liberia Mineral Export’s 151-square-kilometer gold exploration license area, stretching from Butaw all the way to Sanquain along Bafful Bay. Both firms are two of at least four mining zircon sand, a black mineral used in the ceramics and electronics industries. STT Heavy Mineral Resources Ltd and Tetra Mineral Resources Limited complete the quadruple, based on the ministry’s online, public records.

Tarponweh’s ownership of the active company violates Liberian laws. The Minerals and Mining Law of 2000 bars lawmakers from holding shares in companies actively mining. The Liberian Constitution and the Code of Conduct for Public Officials also prohibit such a conflict of interest.

Tarponweh and Jianjun established Jatoken in May 2014, about the same time Tarponweh famously advocated for the rights of communities adjacent to a facility where Ebola victims were being cremated. That helped spur his ascendency to the House of Representatives, defeating 20 other candidates in a tight Margibi District Number Two race in 2017.

In an interview, Tarponweh claimed he did not know Jatoken was still operating after his election to the National Legislature.  

“Your enquiry has opened up another investigation: I have just established that Mr. Jianjun Huang, who has 85 percent shares has been operating the company without my knowledge,” Tarponweh told The DayLight.

A collage of pictures showing Jatoken bagging zircon sand at the Port of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Johnson Buchanan

The ministry said Jatoken filed a new article of incorporation that removed Tarponweh as its shareholder just after he became a lawmaker. The document and the tax payment records show Tarponweh was replaced by Abdullah Mohammed on July 3, 2019.

“They brought a board resolution amending the shares distribution and their article of incorporation. They brought that with their business registration certificate,” said Assistant Minister for Mines Emmanuel Swen in a phone interview.  

“With that, Tarponweh shares were transferred to another person. That shareholder resolution that they brought, Tarponweh name is on it with his signature affixed,” Swen added.

Tarponweh denies he signed any paper, accusing Jianjun of forging his signature.  “My lawyer has taken charge of the situation. The action of Jianjun Huang is criminal. My name has been used to generate thousands of dollars,” Tarponweh said.

Swen said the Ministry of Mines would investigate if the Margibi legislator lodged a complaint. “If Tarponweh is not the one who signed, there is still a room,” Swen told The DayLight when asked about Tarponweh’s accusation. “He must [inform the ministry] that… his signature was forged. Then the ministry can act.”


Jatoken did not register the change to its legal documents at the Liberia Business Registry, based on the Business Association Act. The law requires firms to enroll their legal documents within the registry and get a business registration certificate. It helps the government combat everything from conflict of interest and money laundering to tax evasion and terrorist financing.

Apart from the 2019 illegal amendment, Jatoken amended its article of incorporation once more on September 29, 2021, according to its tax payment record. Again, it did not file that change with the business registry. The Ministries of Mines and Foreign Affairs did not grant The DayLight’s request for a copy of that document.

Swen conceded that the ministry could have averted the  Jotoken scandal had they checked with the Liberia Business Registry before honoring changes to Jatoken’s legal documents. The mining law requires the Ministry of Mines and Energy to verify the validity of firms’ documents before granting them mining rights.   

“We have not been contacting the Liberia Business Registry to further investigate these documents,” Swen added. “We learn from some things that happened. You know the governance process is such that as you encounter one thing, you put into place measures to close the loopholes.”

“Anointing” is one of the boats that transport Jatoken’s zircon sand from Sinoe to the Port of Buchanan. The DayLight/Johnson Buchanan

Signature forged or not, the ministry awarded Jatoken a class B license on September 18, 2018, according to official records. That was nine months into Tarponweh’s legislative term and one year seven months before Jatoken unlawfully made changes to its shareholding. The mining law requires government officials with shares in companies to surrender their stakes or place them in a blind trust before assuming office. A blind trust controls public shares to avoid conflicts of interest.

Moreover, in his interview with The DayLight, Tarponweh claimed Jatoken was not mining zircon sand before he became a lawmaker. That claim is not backed by facts. Jatoken obtained a zircon sand prospecting license in 2015, the ministry’s official records show. The ministry awarded it a class B mining license for the mineral the following year and later archived it.

But Tarponweh’s shares are not Jatoken’s only eligibility issues. Foreign nationals must reside in Liberia and obtain resident and work permits in order to hold majority shares in a class B company, according to the mining law. Jianjun, Jatoken’s majority shareholder, has never obtained a resident or a work permit, the company’s tax payment records show. None of Jatoken’s foreign workers or representatives has obtained a work permit in nearly 10 years of the company’s existence. By law, the ministry should check companies’ owners,  staff’s work and resident statuses, and financial history among other things, before awarding class B licenses.

It was unclear how much volume of zircon sand Jatoken has produced. However, between 2020 and 2022 the company paid just US$48,000 in mining-related fees, Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) records show.  

Our reporter who visited Jatoken’s mine in January saw a trail of equipment, including earthmovers and wheelbarrows. Sandbars and holes and mounds of zircon sand adorned the area. Workers bagged the mineral and transported it to Buchanan, Grand Bassa via boats. Some of the boats that transport the mineral are “Anointing,” “God Knows” and “Iron State.”

Photographs taken at the Port of Buchanan show men uploading 25-kilogram bags with zircon sand. One port source said workers pack 50 bags of the mineral in a single container. Another source said workers transport scores of containers with the mineral to the Freeport of Monrovia weekly.

Jatoken did not return questions for comments on this story. We contacted three of the company’s representatives between February 26 and early this week. Earlier this month, a female representative promised to comment once she returned to Monrovia from Sinoe. She stopped responding to calls and WhatsApp messages ever since.

[Mark Newa and Johnson Buchanan contributed to this story]

Funding for the story was provided by the Green Livelihood Alliance (GLA 2.0) through the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over the story’s content.