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Boakai’s Justice Minister Pick is A Serial Illegal Logger

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Top: This cartoon depicts Minister of Justice-designate Cooper Kruah in a conflict of interest when he served as Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. Then Minister Kruah retained his shares in the Universal Forestry Corporation, which ran a forestry contract and held several mining licenses between 2018 and 2023. Illustration by Leslie Lomeh for The DayLight.


By James Harding Giahyue


  • MONROVIA – Minister of Justice-designate Cooper Kruah is a repeated forestry offender, with his company involved in illegal logging operations dating back to the Liberian Civil War era.
  • Kruah’s Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC) was debarred from forestry in 2006, based on the United Nations Security Council’s recommendation
  • UFC crept its way back into the sector—with assistance from forestry authorities—and continued its illegal activities
  • UFC was involved in the infamous Private Use Permit Scandal in which it illegally received two permits at the detriment of local communities
  • Later, UFC signed an agreement with a community forest in Nimba. Then the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Kruah remained one of its shareholders—a violation of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and forestry’s legal instruments
  • Kruah presented a fake document, which misspells his son’s name, to cover up his conflict of interest
  • UFC persisted with its offenses, abusing the rights of local people, conducting illegal harvesting and transport

MONROVIA – Cllr. Cooper Kruah, the Minister of Justice-designate, has a long history of being a forestry offender. His nomination contradicts the role of the Attorney General and undermines President Joseph Boakai’s expressed quest for accountability and the rule of law.

In his Inaugural Address, President Boakai promised to fight corruption and restore Liberia’s lost image in the comity of nations. Boakai restated that in his first State of the Nation Address.

Last month, Boakai appointed Kruah, a stalwart of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction whose support was instrumental in the Unity Party’s victory in last year’s elections.

Kruah is expected to appear before the Liberian Senate for confirmation. If confirmed, his job would be to prosecute individuals for alleged wrongdoings, sign concessions for Liberia and conduct oversight of several government offices.

But desk research, based on official records, United Nations reports and previous investigations by The DayLight reveals that Kruah may not be the right person for the post. It shows Kruah has broken forestry laws repeatedly with impunity, making no efforts to atone for his wrongdoings.

Kruah has refused to grant The DayLight an interview in each of the two times the newspaper contacted him. He preferred not to be recorded on the matter, which goes against The DayLight’s editorial policy.

Wartime logging

Kruah established Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC) in 1986, holding 25 percent of the company’s shares, according to its article of incorporation at the Liberia Business Registry. One Peter Goankeh held 25 percent while the remaining 50 was outstanding.

UFC was active in the early 1990s and early 2000s when Liberia became known for “conflict timber” or “logs of war.” Warring factions traded timber for weapons in two civil wars that killed an estimated 250,000 people.

The trade violated several United Nations arms embargoes on Liberia, leaving the Security Council to impose sanctions on Liberian timber.  To lift the sanctions, the Liberian government at the time submitted itself to reform led by the UN and national and international civil society organizations.

Following a review of forestry concessions in 2005, the administration canceled all logging contracts, including UFC’s. The review found that UFC was not compliant with the industry’s laws and that its contract was not even ratified by the Legislature.

As part of the reform agenda, UFC and 69 other companies were expelled from doing logging business in Liberia. That move was further carved in the 2007 Regulation on Bidder Qualifications, which partially debars individuals associated with wartime companies from forestry activities.

An Illegal Return

In 2007, UFC amended its legal documents to add new shareholders. Kruah retained five percent shares in the company and the others were distributed among four other people, including former presidential advisor Edward Slangar and two non-Liberians: Jin S. Kyung and B.J. Kim.

In 2007 and 2008, UFC signed two illegal MoUs with Geetroh in Sinoe and Rock Cess in River Cess for logging rights, respectively, according to a 2018 Global Witness report. The communities had not gotten their community forestry status when the MoUs were signed. A 2009 law gives communities the right to enter into contracts with loggers upon the approval of the FDA.

Three years later, Kruah hustled his way back into the sector. The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) ignored UFC’s wartime activities and its qualification regulation. UFC acquired two private use permits and logging rights granted for private lands.

But a two-year investigation by Global Witness, the Sustainable Development Institute and Save My Future Foundation found UFC and other companies were illegally awarded the permits. It became known as the Private Use Permit (PUP) Scandal.

A government-backed inquest uncovered a lot of irregularities with UFC’s PUPs. It found that UFC did not follow any legal processes, did not obtain an environmental permit and that fraudulent persons had posed to be the landowners of its contract areas.

It also found that UFC made payments into a personal bank account, its Grand Bassa PUP area was larger than the actual land size and the one in Sinoe was issued for communal, not private land.

A UN Security Council report revealed that UFC’s Sinoe permit covered the same area as Atlantic Resources, another company.

For the second time in its history, UFC’s permits were canceled alongside 62 others. The Managing Director of the FDA Moses Wogbeh was dismissed and prosecuted for his involvement in the scandal. A moratorium on the issuance of PUPs remains in force to this day.

Conflict of Interest

There is no public record of UFC’s activities after the PUP Scandal. However, UFC returned in 2020 with an agreement with the Sehzueplay Community Forest.

Kruah was the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications while serving as a shareholder and secretary of UFC’s board of directors when the agreement was signed.

That violated the National Forestry Reform Law of Liberia and the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. Both laws prohibit a government official from conducting logging activities. The violations were the subject of an investigative series by The DayLight in 2022.

Kruah tried to cover up his conflict of interest but ended up committing more wrongdoings. A 2019 document he claimed to be UFC’s amended article of incorporation was not recorded at the business registry as required by law. Also, UFC’s tax history at the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) did not show it paid taxes for the amendment. UFC’s legal document at the business registry still carries Kruah and his five percent shares.

On the left is the real article of incorporation of Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC). On the right is the fake one Justice Minister-designate Cooper Kruah presented in 2022.  

Moreover, the content of UFC’s so-called amended article cemented the evidence of the document’s fakeness. The document misspelled the name of Kruah’s son. Instead of “Prince M. Kruah,” it read “Prince M. Kuah.”

Then FDA Managing Director Mike Doryen promised to act but failed to do so. Penalties for forgery in forestry are a fine between US$10,000 and three times the funds Kruah received from UFC, or a prison term of up to 12 months.

But Kruah did not know, or he ignored the fact that he would not have resolved his conflict of interest by transferring his shares to his son. The forestry reform law mandates him to relinquish, or turn over his shares to a blind trust or a person outside of his control.

Illegal harvesting

UFC carried out illegal logging and transport under his shareholdership. An August 2021 industry report found that UFC conducted “massive” illegal harvesting in and around the Sehzueplay Community Forest.

The report revealed that UFC was illegally transporting logs from Nimba to an illegitimate sawmill in Buchanan, Grand Bassa. Investigators suspected that UFC smuggled logs it had felled outside of Sehzueplay to the sawmill.

The DayLight had visited the forest and photographed some of the illegal logs mentioned in that report. It obtained a ranger’s memo to Kyung, UFC manager, informing him about the illegal felling.

“During our recent visit to your concession area, we discovered that you were doing illegal [felling]. You are fallen [trees] without being awarded a [harvesting] certificate,” the memo read, signed by Steve Kromah, the ranger responsible for forest contracts in the Tappita area.

The illegal harvesting was not UFC’s only offense. It unilaterally entered a subcontract with a logging firm. Sehzueplay or the FDA was not aware of the subcontract UFC signed with Ihsaan Logs Company (ILC), a forestry violation.

ILC is ineligible to conduct logging as Mohammed Paasewe, its co-owner, was still paying back funds he embezzled from the Liberian government when he served as Superintendent of Grand Cape Mount County.

The logs The DayLight photographed brandished, “UFC/ILC,” a reference to the unapproved subcontract.

Turns out, towns and villages that own the forest became the biggest victims. As of March 2022, UFC owed locals—and the government—US$155,000, the second-highest in the industry. It had yet to carry out a host of mandatory development projects there. That situation has not changed.

UFC illegally harvested logs in and out of the Sehzueplay Community Forest in Tappita District, Nimba County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Sierra Leoneans Conduct Illegal Logging in Nimba

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


By Mark B. Newa


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

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

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

From Bo to Nimba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Kpokolo’

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

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

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

‘I cannot fight the government’  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Targeting European Markets, Nimba Farmers Eye ‘Organic Cocoa’

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Ambassadors in cocoa farm

Top: EU ambassadors pose for a picture with their entourage, a farmer of Monleh Enterprises at a farm in Saclepea, Nimba County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


SACLEPEA, Nimba County – Farmers in Nimba are learning to produce high-quality cocoa beans to trade on markets of European Union (EU) countries. 

About 2,500 farmers are now being trained in organic cocoa production, according to Monleh Enterprises, a cooperative based in Saclepea, Nimba County. 

“We want to link with markets [in Europe],” said Rachel Mulbah, the CEO of Monleh Enterprises. She was speaking at the tour of the cooperative’s facilities by EU ambassadors and their entourage in Saclepea recently.  

“Monleh also wants to export in order for the farmers to get good [a] price,” Mulbah said. 

Organic cocoa refers to beans that meet sustainability standards required by the EU. With emphasis on the health of people, the soil and the environment, the organic cocoa are grown without the use of fertilizers and pesticides. 

Liberia may not be a powerhouse of cocoa like Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. However, Liberia has a unique variety of the crop, something market experts say is a rarity on the global market. 

‘Queen of Liberian Cocoa Beans’

The farmers of Monleh Enterprises understand their niche and are getting there. It finished number one in a trade fair in Cote d’Ivoire, according to Mulbah. It exported 12 metric tons of premium cocoa to Italy earlier this year, which had rejected its consignment last year, she said. Premium cocoa is of the best quality, too, but it does not have a certification program like organic cocoa. 

Rachel Mulbah, the CEO of Monleh Enterprises, which has some 3,500 farmers, 2,500 of whom have been trained to produce organic cocoa that can be sold in European Union countries. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Monleh farmers are getting their organic cocoa training from the NGO Grow Liberia as part of a US$6 million project funded by Sweden. They learn good agriculture practices that avoid deforestation and the use of harmful chemicals and bad harvesting methods.  

The farmers also learn to make their productions transparent and traceable, a pillar of the certified cocoa scheme of the EU, the world’s largest cocoa market. 

Mulbah urged the EU ambassadors to provide more support to the group to achieve its organic paper. 

“We want to get modern equipment for farming, which, of course, will reduce child labor in Liberia,” Mulbah said, handling the delegation a memo containing the requests. 

“Monleh wants to develop its own nursery. Monleh wants to see farmers’ lives improved,” Mulbah added. Urban Sjöström, the Ambassador of Sweden, called her “the Queen of Liberian Cocoa Beans.” 

Dr. Charles Sackey, Grow Liberia’s team leader, said the farmers were already producing organic cocoa, just that they do not have the certificate.

“Working with the farmers in Liberia, we have seen that there is little use of chemicals. So, the farms are, by default, organic,” Sackey said as EU ambassadors viewed a solar drier for cocoa beans, a suspended platform with transparent plastic roof. 

“Once you sell on the European market, you want to prove that it is organic, and not by default,” Sackey added.  

As it stands, Liberia exported US$38 million cocoa in 2021, the 21st largest cocoa-exporting country worldwide, according to the World Bank. The Netherlands is the biggest importer of Liberian cocoa, with US$19.2 million in 2021. 

The head of the EU Delegation to Liberia Laurent Delahousse urged the farmers to work harder to maintain high standards. 

I want to reassure you that your approach is our approach… We are addressing support problems to agriculture as supposed to food systems, and cocoa makes [a] wonderful food,” Delahousse said.  

“Liberia will not compete on big volumes of low-quality cocoa. Liberia can only compete on smaller volume of very high-quality cocoa. 

“You have a variety in this country that is unique, which gets a premium on the world market but you have to build your value chain from production to …in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Ireland and elsewhere,” Delahousse added. 

The other envoys on the tour include Jacob Haselhuber of Germany, Michael Roux of France, and Simon McCormack, the Second Secretary at the Embassy of Ireland. 

A portion of a cocoa farm in Saclepea, Nimba County recently toured by European Union ambassadors. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue 

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).

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).

FDA Axes Illegal Loggers and Wasteful Companies

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Top: The headquarters of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) in Paynesville. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By James Harding Giahyue


MONROVIA – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has banned a Turkish logging company and barred its shareholders for illegal logging activities in Liberia, the agency said in a press release on Tuesday.

The FDA said Askon Liberia General Trading Limited abused its sawmill license and extracted and exported timber. The agency said it would recommend prosecution for its owners: Hassan, Yetar and Faith Uzan.

“The permit issued required Askon to source logs from legal sources and not engage in the informal harvesting of logs,” the FDA said.  “The investigation into the whereabouts of these individuals will progress, and subsequent actions will be recommended or referred to the justice system of Liberia.”

Askon Illegal operation campsite between Ganta and Sanniquellie, Nimba County. The DayLight/Gerald C. Koinyeneh

Askon’s illegal operations were exposed by The DayLight in March.  The report said Askon ran an illegal operation in Nimba County in which it harvested and smuggled timber in containers. It named Assistant Minister of Trade Peter Somah as an accomplice.  The FDA said it took the report “seriously.”

Hasan Uzan, Askon’s majority shareholder, did not immediately respond to questions for comment on this story.

The FDA also said it took action against logging companies for stockpiling logs across the country.  Companies abandon logs when they do not attend to the woods between three weeks and six months, depending on their location, according to the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products.  

The agency announced it has suspended the harvesting certificates of Mandra Forestry, Ruby Light Forestry and Atlantic Resources. A recent report by The DayLight found Mandra abandoned some 7,000 logs from its contract with the Sewacajua Community Forest. Ruby Light Forestry, which operates in a large concession that extends to Grand Gedeh, has perhaps the largest field of abandoned logs in the country. Holding a logging concession covering Maryland, River Gee and Grand Kru, Atlantic Resources has abandoned a host of logs, including decayed ones in an open field in Greenville, Sinoe County.

This drone photo shows some of Mandra’s abandoned logs outside Greenville, Sinoe County

“This decision is prompted by the failure of these companies to honor the mandate from the FDA to enroll all logs harvested in LiberTrace,” the FDA said. LiberTrace is the system to tracks logs from their sources to final destinations.

Companies that have abandoned logs but do not have harvesting certificates will not be allowed to fell any trees until they export the wood, the FDA said.

The agency said it had initiated actions to confiscate abandoned logs. According to it, the action will deter companies from further harvesting logs without exporting them, one of the most common forestry violations today. Under the law, the FDA must petition a court to confiscate and auction abandoned logs.

“Companies in both categories, suspended certificates and otherwise, may be subject to further [penalties]…,” the FDA said.

Representatives of the three companies did not return WhatsApp messages for their sides of the story. However, in April, Augustine Johnson, Mandra’s manager, falsely argued the logs were not abandoned because they were durable, and that he had already paid the royalties on them. “Before you talk about abandonment. I am expecting a ship to come to Greenville by the second week in next month to get the logs out,” Johnson told The DayLight in a phone interview at the time.

A screenshot of pictures showing decayed logs Atlantic Resources Limited harvested and kept in a log yard in Greenville, Sinoe County. The DayLight/Eric Opa Doue

In January, Massaquoi Robert, a transport supervisor of Ruby Light, too, wrongly argued that the company had abandoned no logs.

“We’re defacing the logs you see there. We have sales contracts right now,” Robert said at the time. “My logs are not rotten. You are not a logger, I say my logs are useful.”

The Turkish Illegal Loggers And Their Government Partner

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Top: A truck offloads Askon Liberian General Trading Inc.’s planks on Gompa Wood Field in Ganta on November 11, 2022. The DayLight/Gabriel M. Dixon


By Mark B. Newa


  • Askon Liberia General Trading Inc., a Turkish-owned forestry company, runs at least one illegal logging operation between Ganta and Sanniquellie in Nimba County. It smuggles timber out of Liberia in containers, making use of online business platforms and social media
  • Assistant Minister for Trade Peter Somah aided the company to smuggle expensive wood to India that cost over US$19,000, according to an illegal export permit The DayLight obtained.  The money did not go into the Liberian government coffers, according to official records
  • Askon also trades planks on the local market in Ganta, a business meant solely for Liberians
  • Local Authorities shut down Askon’s operation in November 2022 over community benefits
  • The rangers of the Forestry Development Authority not far from Askon’s worksite claimed they were not aware of its operations  

ZULUYEE, Nimba – Last November, local authorities ordered a Turkish company to halt its logging operations in a forest between Ganta and Sanniquellie.   

The Office of the Superintendent in Sanniquellie said Askon Liberia General Trading Incorporated did not have a logging contract and did not pay benefits to communities adjacent to the Garr-Mongbain Community Forest.  Askon had come to Zuluyee in 2020, harvesting valuable redwood. The decision of county authorities followed some two years of residents’ anger over the company’s operations and suspicion it was illegally harvesting.

“The company did not come to us here,” said Faliku Kromah, a liaison and political affairs officer in the Superintendent’s office. “They passed the other way and went to do their thing in the forest.”  

The local authorities were right. Askon does not have a legitimate contract to log in Liberia. It runs an illegal logging cabal that involves four Turkish nationals and a number of Liberians, including an official of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. That is according to Askon’s legal documents, official tax payment records, an illegal export permit and pictures from social media.   

In addition to breaking forestry laws and regulations, Askon violated immigration and labor statutes, depriving Liberia of much-needed revenue, the tax records show.

‘See you soon… Turkey’

Askon began with a series of visits by a Liberian named Sylvester Suah to Turkey between November 2015 and December 2016, based on Suah’s Facebook page. Suah, a native of Nimba, held several meetings with his hosts and returned to Liberia. “See you soon, Istanbul, Turkey. Monrovia Liberia here we come…,” a December 1, 2015 post reads. “This is our own way of saying goodbye to each other my friend and business partner.”

By November 2017, Askon was established. It is owned by three Turks of the same family—Hasan Uzan (80 percent), Yeter Uzan (10 percent), and Faith Uzan (five percent)— according to the company’s article of incorporation. The remaining five percent of its shares are outstanding. The document was amended on September 14, 2020, but has not been enrolled at the Liberian Business Registry, a breach of the Business Association Act.

In a WhatsApp message to The DayLight late last year, Suah appeared to justify Askon’s illegal dealings. “I brought those people to Liberia for us to do bigger business but our country people in authority have their own way of delaying people’s progress,” Suah said while in Ghana to get a visa for another visit to Turkey. “That’s [why] you see it is starting that local way… to see how we will be treated before we can… expand.”

Sylvester Suah takes a selfie with four Turkish men in Istanbul, Turkey on November 24, 2015. That was Suah’s first trip that was instrumental to the establishment of Askon Liberia General Trading Inc., a company conducting illegal logging activities in Nimba. Photo credit: Facebook/Sylvester Suah  

Askon’s operations in Nimba go back to 2019 when it signed an agreement with the Gba Community Forest in the Sanniquellie area. Askon agreed to pay US$35 per cubic meter of the logs it harvested on a 45-acre plot of land in that area, according to the agreement. It was unclear what happened thereafter, as there are no mandatory official records of it, except for a USAID report.

Today, Askon operates in Zuluyee, in the Yarpea and Garr-Mongbain forest region between Ganta and Sanniquellie. At its campsite, our reporter saw chainsaws, mobile sawmills, a 30-horsepower diesel tractor, several trucks and a bulldozer.  Its workforce is between 10 and 50 workers, according to Lesprom, a Russia-based wood-trading platform on which the company trades. The region and the rest of Nimba account for 315,000 hectares of tree cover loss between 2001 and 2021. Only Bong County lost more (363,000 hectares), according to Global Forest Watch, which monitors forests across the world.  

“The company is using a mobile saw that clears a large portion of bush and trees in seconds,” one chainsaw operator said, asking not to be named.

“The company is cutting trees all over here. All the trees will soon finish from here,” a community leader added under the same condition.  

Five other people buttressed the dealer.  Photographs our reporter took show planks and thick, sawn timbers, commonly called “Kpokolo” at Askon’s campsite. Also called block wood, the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) recently banned kpokolo, as it became synonymous with illegal exports.

Pictures Hasan Uzan posted to his WhatsApp profile suggest kpokolo activities. One picture showcase squared timbers made from expensive wood stacked in containers and on wooden platforms. Another picture shows men uploading timber into a container truck. And one shows a variety of tree species with different colors. The profile reads: “Tropical timber center Askon sawmill, Monrovia, Liberia.”

Askon has exported different species of processed timber that are shipped to Asia and Europe, according to Global Wood Trade Network, a leading marketplace for timber and wood products. Askon’s LinkedIn account also identifies it as an export and import company, and it trades on other online marketplaces.

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

Illegal Permit

A permit The DayLight obtained shows Askon exported two 20-foot containers of ekki wood in October 2020 at US$9,900 each. Ekki wood or Azobe are durable redwood used in shipbuilding and outdoor construction. It sold for US$293 a cubic meter on the international market that year, according to the International Timber Trade Organization. Askon sold the consignment to Green Wood, a firm in India, according to the document. Efforts to get comments from the company were unsuccessful.

There are other legality woes. Hasan Uzan is a resident of the Police Academy in Paynesville, according to Askon’s legal documents. However, Askon’s tax payment records show that he and Umit Gungor, a fellow Turkish national, have never obtained a resident or work permit. (Gungor came to Liberia on January 25, last year) That is a violation of the Aliens and Nationality Law and the Decent Work Act. Work and resident permits are prerequisites to conducting commercial logging in Liberia.  

Assistant Minister for Trade at the Ministry of Commerce Peter Somah, signed the illegal document. Somah awarded the permit outside of Liberia’s timber-tracking system called LiberTrace. National Forestry Reform Law and Regulation on the Establishment of a Chain of Custody System bars trading timber outside LiberTrace. A pillar of Liberia’s forestry reform, the system tracks timbers from their sources to their final destinations, verifying legal requirements. It is a foothold of the country’s international timber trade, following decades of civil wars and mismanagement.

“No person shall import, transport, process, or export unless the timber is accurately enrolled in the chain of custody,” the law provides.

“Holders of forest resource licenses comply with all legal requirement facilitating the accurate assessment and remittance of forest charges and keeping illegal logs of the domestic and illegal markets,” according to the regulation.

Furthermore, the US$19,800 Askon paid for the two containers did not go to the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) as required by law, according to Askon’s tax payment record.

The Somah-issued Askon permit is unlawful, as it lacks features legal permits contain. It has no tracking barcodes, not signed by the FDA’s legality verification department (LVD) and SGS, a Swiss firm that created the system. And it is not rubberstamped by the Managing Director of the FDA Mike Doryen.

In an interview with The DayLight, Somah sidestepped questions about the illegality of the permit, providing a lecture on trade instead. Then he displayed a file of papers he said were permits he had approved. Similarly, efforts to have him address a set of emailed follow-up questions four months later proved unsuccessful.   

A screenshot of a container of sawn timber or kpokolo from the WhatsApp profile of Hasan Uzan, an illegal Turkish logger.
Assistant Minister of Commerce Peter Somah awarded an illegal export permit to Askon Liberia General Trading

Illicit activities have rocked the forestry sector in the last three years or so. A recent Associated Press investigation found that Liberian officials appeared to collude with illegal loggers to export timber. Citing diplomatic documents, the report said Liberia may have a “parallel system” to the legal channel for timber exports. In January, a court indicted a former police chief, a customs officer, and three rangers over an illegal export deal. The policeman had been dismissed before the indictment.  

FDA rangers—George Gaye, a ranger assigned at the Ganta checkpoint, and Bah Kromah assigned at the Guinea border—said they were not aware of Askon’s operations.

“The lack of mobility is hindering my operation as I am not able to patrol or visit nearby forest communities,” Bah Kromah told The DayLight in September last year. However, Askon’s operation site is just a 15-minute drive from Ganta and is an open secret in that region.  

‘I need my money’

The villagers, too, said they were initially not aware of Askon’s harvesting their trees. “When we heard about this, we quickly called them to bring their equipment back to town,” recalled James Tokpah, an elder in Garr-Mongbain.

Thereafter, the villagers demanded Askon signed an agreement with them, according to several townspeople The DayLight interviewed. In the end, the illegal loggers promised to pay the community US$1,500 for every 1,000 pieces of timber, which Askon did not pay. That sparked anger, leaving local authorities to shut down its operations late last year.  

By November, Askon’s world was crumbling down. In addition to the villagers, it owed its workers and petroleum dealers, according to Hasan Uzan.  One of the workers said, “I need my money to pay my school fees and rent.”  

Suah declined to make further comments on the story, despite accepting an interview months earlier. He lunged into The DayLight for protecting the interest of the international community, and not companies. “When I am ready, I will write my own story,” he said at his home in Ganta.

A mobile sawmilling machine producing illegal block wood in the forest. The DayLight/Gerald Koiyenneh
Askon’s campsite and some of its sawn timber or kpokolo. The DayLight/ Gerald Koiyenneh

Hasan Uzan, Askon’s majority shareholder, denied exporting timbers with the permit when The DayLight tracked him down in Zuluyee. He refused to make further comments, referring our reporter to Suah, who he claimed was Askon’s owner.

On November 11, last year, The DayLight witnessed a truck Askon owns or hired offload planks for sale on the Gompa Wood Field in Ganta. One of the dealers, who preferred anonymity, said that the company frequently sold planks there. That breaks the Chainsaw Milling Regulation, which prohibits foreign nationals from selling planks in Liberia.

[Gerald C. Koinyeneh contributed to this story.]

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

US165K Clinic Funded By Community Logging Benefits Stalls Over Furniture

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Top: The Tiah Town Clinic was funded by benefits affected communities received from a logging concession between the Liberian government and International Capital Consultant (ICC). Construction works have been completed but the lack of furniture supplies means the clinic cannot serve its people. The DayLight/Eric Opa Doue


By Eric Opa Doue for The DayLight


TIAH TOWN, Nimba County – Fifty-two-year-old Elizabeth Zialue traveled 55 kilometers from Tiah Town in Nimba to Boegeezay Town in River Cess County to seek treatment for her two-year-old grandson. Medical services in the Boegeezay community are free but Zialue has to pay LD3,500 for a motorcycle taxi to get there, and the same amount to get back.

Zialue had lost her daughter, the boy’s mother, two years ago. “My daughter was sick when she delivered. There was no money to go to the hospital in Boegeezay or Tappita so she died,” she recalled.

But Zialue’s daughter could have survived if a clinic in Tiah Town was operational.  In 2017, communities around here received US$125,000 to construct a clinic here in Tiah Town. The money was a portion of their benefits from a logging concession between the Liberian government and a logging company called International Capital   Consultant (ICC). The concession, known in the forestry sector as Forest Management Contract Area K, covers 266,910 hectares in both River Cess and Nimba. The community’s leadership added another US30,000 for other utilities such as water towers and an insinuator.

The clinic’s construction started in April 2017 and was expected to be completed, dedicated for full operation in March 2018. The Nimba County Health Team was supposed to provide the workforce and medical and non-medical supplies for the running of the facility. Due to its strategic location, it was supposed to serve both River Cess and Nimba Counties when completed.  

Healthcare workers’ resident at the proposed Tiah Town Clinic. The DayLight/Eric Opa Doue
The Tiah Town Clinic project was funded by logging funds. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Five years after its completion, nothing has happened according to plan. The National Benefit Sharing Trust Board, a watchdog that manages communities’ funds from forest concessions disbursed US$10,225.25 plus L$5.3 million to purchase furniture and drugs for the clinic. The fees come from logging-affected communities’ share of land rental fees companies pay to the Liberian government. However, the community’s forest leadership used the fund to build a guesthouse instead.  

Jerry Gbaye, the head of the leadership at the time, told The DayLight his decision to divert the fund was backed by all affected towns and villages in Gbi, Gbiagloh and Doru chiefdom, where the clinic is located. The clinic is meant to provide thousands of people access to healthcare in one of the remotest places in Liberia.

“It was not the CFDC’s decision to use the money for a guesthouse,” Gbaye said. CFDC means community forest development committee, a body of villagers that co-manages a certain logging concession alongside the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).

“The people of Gbiagloh and Gbi said the people of Doru already had the clinic in their area so that money should be used to construct a guesthouse for them to benefit, too,” he added.

Alfred Zelee, an elder responsible for Tiah Town’s development matters, refutes that claim. “If a decision was reached to use the money on the guesthouse, I don’t know,” said Zelee.” “All I know is that Gbaye took the money and used it on the guesthouse.

“We are suffering here because few people decided to use the money from the land rental fees that they were supposed to use to put medicine in the clinic,” he added.

The National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC), a group that advocates for the benefits for villagers affected by logging concessions, is investigating the matter. 

Gbi-Doru District is one of Nimba’s remotest communities, with no access to healthcare. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“We are now investigating whether the project was identified by the citizens and, and the project was awarded to a competent company,” said Andrew Zelemen, the national facilitator for the group in an interview with The DayLight. “Since it is established that the money was diverted, the NUCFDC is now contemplating what punishment awaits the [community’s leadership.”

The Trust Board has also said it would not give the community’s leadership any more money unless it accounted for the furniture fund for the clinic, the most expensive of 53  projects it has funded countrywide since 2015.

“The board has the intent to release additional funding for the Tiah Town project and all other uncompleted projects across the country, under conditions,” said Roberto Kollie, the head of the secretariat. “The first criterion is the [community’s leadership] must be able to present an assessment report to the board.

“The Assessment report will include the project that was approved, the cost of the project, and the total amount that was disbursed for the implementation of the project and they must be able to provide a reason to the board why those projects were not completed.”

Zialue in Tiah Town is unaware of the unfolding. Her grandchild was treated but she had to spend additional days in Boegeezay before going back to Tiah Town.

“Ever since the people talked about the hospital to build, everybody was happy, but today no head, no tail,” Zialue said. “We [are] still doing the same thing.”

The ‘Kpokolo’ Kingpin: How FDA Created A Serial Illegal Logger

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Top: Emmanuel Gongor poses before a stockpile of illegal block wood, commonly called “kpokolo.” Photo credit: Facebook/ Emmanuel Gongor


Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part report on the operations of an infamous illegal logger, based in Nimba County. It is also a part of a broader series on a criminal logging activity commonly called “Kpokolo.”   


By Mark B. Newa


GANTA, Nimba County – On one sunny day in Karnwee late last year, forest rangers and police officers seized a truck with 80 pieces of boxlike timber, ending an hourlong chase all the way from Bahn, where the woods had been harvested.

Emmanuel Gongor, a middle-height man, arrived on the scene shortly on a motorcycle taxi, appearing shocked. This was not the first time Gongor had transported block wood, commonly called “Kpokolo” in the logging industry. For years he passed checkpoints without any problems. Sometimes he sold the wood to other companies or individuals in Liberia. Other times, he exported them.

Things had suddenly changed. Gongor learned that the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) had banned Kpokolo, derived from the sound the wood makes when it falls or “thick and heavy” in the Kpelle language. His woods were dumped by a roadside.

“We have been so committed, but if we cannot understand, we will seek the legal process by taking the FDA to the circuit court,” a furious Gongor told The DayLight in a phone interview days after the incident. He expected to get US$7,000 from the consignment and settle all of his holiday expenses.  

Gongor does not have a logging contract and his timber surpass the dimension defined in the Chainsaw Milling Regulation. His woods are between five and 10 inches thick, up to five times the required measurement of two inches. In photos posted to Gongor’s Facebook page, several men can be seen trying to lift the timber.   

But interviews and documents show that the FDA has been aware of Gongor’s illegal logging activities for half of a decade. In fact, the agency has unlawfully received fees from him. Some of his waybills seen by The DayLight amounted to over US$1,500.

Those payments sanctioned the 48-year-old to rip off forests from central Nimba to the Cote d’Ivoire border. Nimba lost 315,000 hectares of tree cover between 2001 and 2021. That makes it second only to Bong County (363,000 hectares), according to Global Forest Watch, a tool that monitors the state of forests across the world.  

‘Emmanuel, The Investor’

Gongor was an accomplished miner. He panned and sieved for gold on a number of goldfields in  Gbarpolu,  Grand Kru and Grand Gedeh.

He started up in the logging industry in 2017 as a chainsaw miller, pit-sawyers or plank producer. Soon he saw that he could make more money from harvesting kpokolo.

“Block wood is preferable because for normal sawing at times, we take 500 pieces of timber to be a truckload, but for block wood, some are just 150-200 pieces,” Gongor explained. “For the past six years now, I have been on that operation.”

Gongor was hired by a Turkish-owned firm called Tropical Wood Group of Companies, which obtained a one-year permit from the FDA to buy and sell. The permit was issued by Darlington Tuargben, the FDA Managing Director at the time. The legality verification department (LVD), a unit of the FDA that manages its log-tracking system called the chain of custody, said it has no record of the company. Efforts to contact Abdulla Aklan, the company’s owner, were not successful. Tuargben did not respond to queries.

Emmanuel Gongor’s 80 illegal block woods, commonly called “Kpokolo” were arrested in Karnwee, near Saclepea. Picture credit: Emmanuel Gongor

Gongor conquered the kpokolo black market. He broke out with his employer and established Tropical Wood Group of Investment. Though he is yet to register it as a legal entity, he continues his criminal deals with the new firm.

His network spans four of the nine districts in Nimba: Zoe-Gbao, Zoe-Geh, Bu-Yao and Gbelay-Geh in the central and eastern regions of the county. He boasts of a workforce of 25 people and a host of villagers and disadvantaged youth or “zogoes.” They do everything from locating forested communities to finding trees and from negotiating with local landowners, to harvesting, hauling and transporting. With 30 chainsaws, they have built wooden bridges, and town halls and have repaired schools and clinics in forested towns and villages.  

Videos recorded by Gongor show him taking stock of trees he had negotiated with villagers to harvest in  Tahnplay, and celebrating the completion of projects.  “We finally completed the bridge connecting Kanhplay to Sehyi Town in Gbelay-Geh Statutory District,” Gongor can be heard saying in one video. “Together with the youth, elders, and chiefs, we were able to complete the first phase of operation.”

Townspeople in the areas Gongor works revere him. His name goes beyond the reach of logging companies in that region, many of whom have failed to fulfill their social agreements with communities.

“We call him Emmanuel The Investor,”Arkey Vasiee, town chief of Zortapa.  

In March last year, James Zuorpeawon, Gbehlay-Geh’s development superintendent, issued him a permit to operate in the area. It authorizes Gongor to present the document “for awareness and protection during his operation within the district.”   

Gongar and villagers pose for a picture following the construction of a bridge in Karnplay, Nimba.

Other kpokolo loggers across the country also respect Gongor. 

“This place is small for him, he can’t even come here again,” said a plank producer from Gompa Wood Field in Ganta, who preferred not to be named. Gongor had milled planks there prior to venturing into kpokolo.

“Gongor is one of the most skillful kpokolo operators,” said James Kelley, a kpokolo logger in Gbaryama in Gbarpolu’s Bopolu District. Kelley said he had worked with him in Kinjor, Grand Cape Mount County.

Gongor does not depend on his fame—or notoriety—to run his business. He advertises on Facebook. “[If you are] interested in this Iroko table, you can WhatsApp me on this number,” a November 27, 2020 post reads, featuring a flat piece of log on a stick like a table. “If anyone is interested in buying teak wood, just contact me on my contact number,” reads a March 10, 2021 post. Both Iroko and teak logs are durable woods used for outdoor purposes. His accounts also showcase selfie pictures of him with men loading giant-sized block wood onto trucks.  

But Gongor would not have been this successful without the FDA. Receipts of their transactions show he has paid the FDA tens of thousands of United States Dollars in waybill, fees imposed on transported timber. One September 2017 receipt shows that he paid the FDA L$18,000 for 300 pieces of kpokolo. Another in May last year reveals he paid US$424 for 121 pieces.

One document shows Gongor’s invoice to a firm in Hong Kong to export 125 cubic meters of sawn timber with a height and width of 50 centimeters (approximately 20 inches) and length of seven feet. He had a deal to export timber from the Freeport of Monrovia to the Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh, according to one invoice.

“The FDA agents are always informed when we are going to bring wood from the bush,” Gongor told The DayLight.

“We make more money for forestry. Our own percentage to the FDA is different from the normal [pit-sawing].”  He was speaking in reference to the US$0.60 toll on a plank compared to US$2 on kpokolo, according to waybills FDA issued him, seen by The DayLight.

Emmanuel Gongor takes a selfie with men loading block wood in a truck. Facebook/Emmanuel Gongor

The fees the FDA received from Gongor are illegal in a number of ways. First, the payments he has made to the FDA do not go to the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), the company’s tax-payments record shows. In addition to possessing no contract, the villages where he operates do not have any legal rights to engage in logging deals. And the timber he harvests or exports does not pass through the legal channel, as mandated in the National Forestry Reform Law and the Regulation on Establishing a Chain of Custody System.     

Gongor’s kpokolo waybills have also shined a light on FDA’s shady plank tolls system. Fees the agency collects from planks dealers are not made public as required by forestry’s legal frameworks, including Liberia’s Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union. They are neither paid to the LRA nor captured in the reports of the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI). The FDA has retained these fees for years,  a breach of the financial provision of the reform law.

FrontPage Africa reported in 2020 that the Klay checkpoint in Bomi collected over L$500,000 in just one month. It said that there was a wrangle within the FDA over the management of the funds, adding that the fees went into a mobile money account belonging to Edward Kamara, FDA’s forest product marketing manager. Kamara coordinates fees collected at checkpoints countrywide.

Nimba, Region III FDA agent in Ganta issued a waybill for 212 pieces of Kpokolo on July 5, 2022 
Emmanuel Gongor of Tropical Wood Group of Investment paid the FDA US$226 to transport 113 block wood on May 11, 2022
One of Emmanuel Gongor’s earliest receipts from the FDA for block wood, shows he paid L$9,485 to transport 55 pieces of the illegal timber on October 28, 2017.
This latest FDA receipt shows Gongor paid the agency US$80 for 40 pieces of kpokolo on May 11, 2022.
One of Tropical Wood Group of Companies’ illegal export documents obtained by The DayLight

Ironically, while the FDA secretly collects fees from Gongor, it has asked the public to assist it to combat illegal logging activities. The FDA said in a release last November that it had intercepted four container trucks trafficking timber from western Liberia. That statement followed a similar one three months earlier after rangers in Bomi and Gbarpolu arrested three trucks with logs illegally harvested.  

Earlier this month, the Monrovia City Court issued an arrest warrant for a former police commander, an ex-envoy and eight people in the Bomi-Gbarpolu incident. The FDA is seeking court orders in the counties to auction the logs, the first such step since the formulation of Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products.

‘I am over hurt’

Gongor feels betrayed in all of this, believing he is a victim rather than the villain he actually is. For the last six years, the FDA has sanctioned his operations and accepted his payments like a typical chainsaw miller.  He finds nothing wrong with producing Kpokolo.  

“It would have been good for the FDA to formally inform those involved in the business before ordering us to stop the harvest and sale of block wood in the country,” Gongor said.

“I am over hurt. We have been issued hundreds of waybills. We always pay a huge sum of money to these guys,” he added.

In December, nearly a month after his consignment of timber was seized, Gongor transported them to Ganta. They were again seized and are being kept at the Gompa Wood Field.

The FDA is yet to take the required legal actions to confiscate Gongor’s timber. Under the confiscated timber regulation, The FDA should petition the circuit court in Sanniquellie to auction the wood. Both Arthur Gweh, the commander of Nimba County police detachment in Bahn, and Emmanuel Gbeh, the FDA ranger who arrested the wood, declined to comment.

By law, Gongor should face a lawsuit for his illicit activities, and if convicted he could pay a fine, serve a prison term, or both. It is a crime for a non-contract holder to harvest timber, punishable under the Penal Code as economic sabotage.

The FDA’s Managing Director Mike Doryen did not respond to emailed queries.  

Police Seize Illegal Timber in Nimba

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Top: The arrested illegal timber dumped at Bahn police station. The DayLight/Mark Newa


By Mark Newa

BAHN – Police in Nimba have arrested a truckload of illegal timber harvested from forests by a businesswoman. 

The illegal timber, owned by Binta Bility, were harvested from community forests in the Zoe-Geh and Bu-Yao districts, destined for Ganta when it was stopped earlier this month.

FDA rangers arrested the consignment after they noticed the timber was oversized. Under the Chainsaw Milling Regulation, planks must be not more than two inches thick, 10 or 12 inches wide and at most 14 feet long.

The 79 pieces of the four-inch-thick timber, commonly called kpokolo, were dumped at the main police station. The woods are slightly less thick than the ones Bility illegally harvested in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa County.

Bility said she was not aware of the regulation restricting chainsaw millers to those sizes of planks.

“I agreed to reduce [the woods] to the legal two inches,” Bility told The DayLight via WhatsApp over the weekend. “I don’t intend to do anything illegal.”  

Arthur Gweh, the local police commander, and Emmanuel Gbeh, the FDA ranger who carried out the arrest, evaded the interview.

Under the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products, the FDA is required to petition the circuit court in Nimba to auction the woods.   

Bility, meanwhile, faces a fine of twice the price of the timber set by the FDA and could face up to 12 months in prison. She has not been punished for the ones she illegally harvested in Grand Bassa, though.

The news comes weeks after the FDA said it uncovered a string of illegal logging activities in Nimba and Gbarpolu and asked the public for their cooperation.

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