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ArcelorMittal Yet to Restore Wetland, Violating EPA’s Order   

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Top: One of several sewage lines ArcelorMittal uses to dump feces in a wetland used by local farmers. The DayLight/Franklin Nehyalor


By Franklin Nehyalor  


YEKEPA, Nimba County –  ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML) has not completed an Environmental Protection Agency recommendation to restore a wetland the company degraded and polluted in Yekepa, according to an EPA report.

The steel company was mandated to reinstate 9.33 acres of wetland that it polluted with human feces, according to the report published in March this year but recently obtained by The DayLight.

The EPA investigation was commissioned after residents of Area Q, S1, and Liagbala—three communities mainly affected by the pollution—erected a roadblock in February this year for  “the constant habit of (AML) dumping employees’ feces into their communities.”

The investigation corroborated the communities’ accusation. It found that the company’s sewage plant had contaminated groundwater in the area after two tests.   

“The result of the analysis shows that iron, phosphate and e-coli were above permissible limits in both ground waters samples,” the EPA report said. E. coli for the Escherichia coli bacterium, iron and phosphate in water cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, occasional fever for people, and low dissolved oxygen for fish.

ArcelorMittal dumps human feces into a wetland in Yekepa, Nimba County, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The DayLight/Franklin Nehyalor

ArcelorMittal continues to violate EPA’s orders.

On April 17, 2024, about a month after the report, police arrested an ArcelorMittal tanker transporting 7,200 gallons of feces from Buchanan, Grand Bassa County to Yekepa, Nimba County.

In a statement seen by The DayLight,  Prince Moore, AML’s tanker driver, told police that he was dispatched on April 16 to collect sewage waste from Buchanan to Yekepa by the transport office of ArcelorMittal.

But the EPA, the government agency that authorizes the transport of hazardous wastes or substances in or out of Liberia, said it was unaware of the transport. “The EPA did not give AML any permit to transfer sewage waste from Buchanan to Yekepa,” Danise Dodoo, EPA’s head of media and corporate communications, said in an email reply.

ArcelorMital’s failure to obtain approval to transport the sewage waste violates the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia, punishable by a fine of not more than US$50,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years, or both.

The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia(EPA). The DayLight/Mark Newa.

The EPA March 6 report was the second of two assessments by the agency regarding ArcelorMittal’s degradation of biodiversity in Nimba. In June 2022, an EPA assessment found the steel company guilty of environmental pollution and soil degradation in three communities in Yekepa after Nimba Mom-Waa, a local advocacy group that represents the affected communities, filed a complaint with the agency. The group had identified alleged environmental pollution and soil degradation and asked the EPA to investigate the matter.  

After a thorough assessment, the EPA imposed a four-part fine on ArcelorMittal, totaling US$110,000 for breaking Liberia’s environmental laws.

The 2022 report also outlined six recommendations that should have been completed, including providing compensation packages to all farmers for damages caused to crops, alternative livelihoods for farmers using the polluted portion of the wetland and repair to damaged sewage lines. The recommendations included the construction of a water treatment plant and the provision of at least one treated drinking water source in each of the three affected communities.

But Alex Paye, the executive director of Nimba Mon-Waa, told this paper that the water treatment plant is nonfunctional and AML is yet to provide treated water units in the affected communities.

“The company still buys minerals [water] from an Indian company for its employees while our people suffer,” he said.

Restoration of the wetland should have been completed in a hundred days and the repair of broken sewage pipes from residential and office buildings hosting the company and its workers, in 60 days. 

A septic tank that AML uses to dispose of feces in a nearby wetland with tree crops. TheDayLight/Franklin Nehyalor

The March recommendation also included the construction of water treatment units for communities in sixty days, as of the date of the release of the March 6, 2024 report.

Friday, June 21, 2024, makes the count exactly 105 days since the recommendations.

Winston Daryoue, AML’s Communication Manager, said the company is making efforts to address these issues.

“ArcelorMittal Liberia is in conversation with local community members to address their queries in relation to the restoration of the wetland,” Winston wrote via email.

“We are presently carrying out the tendering process to hire a vendor for the construction of two solar water kiosks at Areas Q and S. Construction work will commence in due course.”

ArcelorMittal has implemented some of the recommendations. It paid US$16,583.53 to compensate 25 farmers whose crops were damaged by the pollution. It has also introduced alternative livelihood for those affected by the pollution and contracted a company to repair and maintain its sewage lines. 


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

Company Exports Timber Amid Outstanding Community Projects

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Top: A West Water skidder in District Three B&C Community Forest in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Philip Quwebin


By Emmanuel Sherman and Gerald Koinyeneh  


Editor’s Note: This is the third part of a series on the Forestry Development Authority’s approval of illegal timber exports. 

TONWEIN, Nimba and GAYEPUEWHOE, Grand Bassa – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) authorized a company to cut thousands of logs. However, it did not execute its social agreement with communities, violating a harvesting regulation.

West Water Group (Liberia) Inc. has operated in Blinlon and District Three B&C Community Forests in Nimba and Grand Basaa, respectively. During this time, it harvested 2,782 logs (20,095 cubic meters), according to the FDA. 

But West Water has completed just a few out of dozens of mandatory projects for the communities, a DayLight investigation found.

“We will make sure they do that. I just want our people to be patient because these projects have been overdue,” said Eric Dahn, a leader of Blinlon’s community forest leadership.

“So, if it causes us to stop the company from operating until they fulfill all the promises, we will do it,” Dahn added.

This investigation adds to another published earlier this month, which found the FDA violated a payment regulation by approving West Water’s exports amid its indebtedness to the communities. Both payment and harvesting regulations empower local communities to benefit from forest resources.  

The villagers’ plight had been thrust into the spotlight after an initial DayLight investigation found the FDA approved the export of West Water’s illegally harvested timber in District Three B&C.

West Water did not respond to questions for comment.

Failed promises

In 2020, West Water, a Chinese-owned company, signed a 15-year contract with Blinlon Community Forest for its 39,409 hectares of forestland in the Yarweh-Mehnsonneh District near the Nimba- River Cess border.

A West Water camp in Tonwein, Nimba County. The DayLight/Gerald Koinyeneh

The company promised the villagers a series of projects across Blinlon including a school, clinic, handpumps, roads and concrete bridges.

Nearly four years on, West Water has only done two out of 14 handpumps and has just started paving mandatory roads, which should have happened at the beginning of the contract. It has not done the school and clinic, which should have commenced in 2021, according to the contract.

The company only jumpstarted the roads after townspeople protested, blocking its workers from entering the forest in March. Both parties later resolved on March 5 to end hostilities.

“We will make sure they fulfill all the promises,” added Dahn.

Protest and Interference

The tension in District Three B&C Community Forest in Grand Bassa is higher. It mirrors a string of controversies, which have marred the community since it obtained community forest status in 2014. (communities own forestlands but must complete legal requirements to sign logging contracts)

At that time, the community forest contracted Renew Forestry Group to operate its 49,728 hectares of forest on the border of Grand Bassa, River Cess and Nimba.

However, a conflict erupted. The forest leadership recognized Renew Forestry Group, while the local and county authorities sided with West Water.

Ultimately, the forest was split between the two logging companies. Renew Forestry Group took Community Forest One, and West Water Community Forest Two. 

Then in 2021, West Water signed a 15-year contract with District Three B&C  Community Forest of 24,175 hectares of woodland. The company promised to build roads, concrete bridges, a clinic, a school, market tables, town halls and hand pumps.

Like its Blinlon contract, West Water has not lived up to its contract with District Three B&C. It has completed just one out of eight hand pumps, while villagers drink from polluted creeks. Three years into the agreement, it has not done the major roads, bridges, clinics, town halls and market tables.  According to the contract, most of these projects should have been completed in two years.

“West Water is not doing anything good for us,” Alex Bonwin, a member of the community leadership said. “If the company is not doing what they’re supposed to do we revoke their document to get out.”

West Water’s failure to honor the contract has led to tension, with three protests already this year. In the latest one, which occurred last week, townspeople stopped seven log-loaded trucks from leaving the community.

Alfred Flomo, the representative of Grand Bassa Electoral District Four, where the community forest lies, interferes in the matter.

Gayepuewhoe Town is one of 14 communities that own the District Three B&C Community Forest. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman

In a May 12 meeting, Flomo asked the company to stay off the forest until it addressed issues the villagers raised, according to the meeting’s minutes seen by The Daylight. That was the second time he had taken such action.

Under the community forest law, lawmakers are members of the community assembly, the highest decision-maker, and the executive committee. However, they cannot unilaterally halt a company’s operations.

Flomo and the townspeople’s actions also violate the contract between West Water and the community. Both parties agreed to settle their dispute between themselves or through an arbitration procedure. Flomo did not reply to The DayLight’s emails and text messages for an interview.

The FDA did not respond to queries for comment on this story. However, in a recent interview, Director Rudolph Merab told the Associated Press he would work to scale back regulations. Those comments echoed ones he made during his induction in February, saying forestry reformers created laws “that cannot work.”


[Additional reporting by Philip Quwebin and Derick Snyder]

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

FDA Approves Export of Illegal Timber Valued Nearly US$1M

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Top: In one of his first acts after being appointed Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority, Rudolph Merab signed an illegal export of 797 logs for West Water Group (Liberia) Inc.  The DayLight/Harry Browne


By James Harding Giahyue


Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a series on the Forestry Development Authority’s approval of illegal timber exports.  

MONROVIA – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) approved the export of 797 logs, valued at an estimated US$923,441,  despite being aware that over half of the timber had been illegally harvested. The illegal shipment was one of the first acts of Managing Director Rudolph Merab—a serial logging offender—since he became the unlikely head of the forestry regulator.  

The export permit and a National Port Authority reconciliation report show that West Water Group (Liberia) Inc., which operates in Grand Bassa and Nimba Counties, owns the shipment.  Merab had approved the export barely two weeks after his appointment in February, according to the permit.

The 4,702.679 cubic meters of logs were loaded onto M/V Tropical Star, a ship flying under the Malaysian flag. The vessel departed the Port of Buchanan on March 16 bound for China. Marine Traffic, which provides information on the movement of ships,  reports that the ship is due in China on May 16Wenzhou Timber Group Co. Ltd, the Chinese state-owned firm that deals in timber and other trades, bought the consignment, according to the permit.  

But an analysis of the consignment FDA’s computer system generated by, obtained by The DayLight, identified 401 logs, or 50.3 percent of the consignment as illegal logs.  The LiberTrace system tracks logs from their origin to their final destination. Programmed automatically to flag noncompliance, it is a crucial part of forestry reform following years of corruption and mismanagement. SGS, a Swiss verification firm, created LiberTrace in 2014 and turned it over to the FDA five years later.

This pie chart analyzing West Water’s illegal timber export that was approved by the Forestry Development Authority (FDA)

A document from the FDA’s legality verification department (LVD) provides a peep into how Merab approved the export. It reveals Gertrude Nyaley, the Deputy Managing Director for Operations, who headed LVD at the time, endorsed the export.

“[Managing Director Merab], please approve [West Water’s export permit] as per the analysis and payment made,” Nyaley wrote to Merab.

Nyaley appeared to have skipped the red flags LiberTrace raised. “Out of the 797 logs, 50 percent are traceable with red label because of diameter [issues]. Two percent is also traceable relating to species. And 48 percent over tolerance,” Nyaley added.   

On the contrary, the analysis shows that the FDA had not authorized the harvest of some of the logs. Others were either immature, originated from different sources or had other issues, violating several forestry statutes.

‘Vulnerable’

The FDA had not approved the harvesting of 180 of the 401 problematic logs, according to the Liber Trace analysis. 

Of that 180, 160 logs were ekki wood (Lophira alata) that did not meet the legal diameter ekki wood is listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a UN-recognized body that promotes sustainable use of natural resources. The DayLight manually verified the permit that details each of the logs exported. Some even measured 60 centimeters, 20 centimeters less than the required dimension, known in forestry as the diameter cut limit.

No penalties

Approving the West Water shipment shows Merab, an outspoken critic of forestry regulations, ignored various legal frameworks, and the violations LiberTrace flagged. The main function of LiberTrace is to keep illegal logs from the FDA’s chain of custody system, which covers everything from harvest to export. That, in turn, rids national and international markets of illegal timber and timber products.

Unauthorized harvesting, cutting smaller trees,  and false declaration of tree species all carry a fine or a penalty.  Unauthorized harvesting, for instance, carries a fine of twice the value of the species of logs unauthorizedly felled, under the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products. Mr. Huiwen, West Water’s owner, did not respond to email and WhatsApp queries for comments.

The Forestry Development Authority authorized the export of 797 logs for a company called West Water barely two weeks after Rudolph Merab was appointed Managing Director of the FDA.
A screengrab of LiberTrace’s analysis of, yellow-highlighting problematic logs in West Water’s consignment

SGS, which comanages LiberTrace alongside the FDA, reviewed the permit but did not disapprove it. 

Theodore Aime Nna, SGS’ forestry project manager, did not return questions for comments on this story. Nna said he was “not currently around” and would be available in 18 days for an interview. Nna, who took a swipe at The DayLight in two immediate emails, did not reply to the newspaper even 21 days thereafter.  

‘Major traceability errors’

In his response to The DayLight’s queries on Wednesday, Merab said the red flags LiberTrace raised did not “automatically point to traceability or legality issues,” and were, in fact, “normal occurrences.”

A West Water camp in Nimba County. The DayLight/Gerald Koinyeneh

Merab said the 12 logs that were different from the one declared during inventory might have been mistaken. “The logs recorded in that specific export permit are consistent with the approved physical logs,” he said, without any evidence.

On undersized logs, Merab suggested that the logs LiberTrace red-flagged in this category were based on tree inventory data, not the ones that were felled or in West Water’s log yard.

This likely mix-up is commonplace in forestry. However, the details of the logs on the export permit do not support Merab’s explanation. The document repeats the very things LiberTrace identified as a warning or an error. If the log data had been verified as Merab claimed, the changes would have been reflected on the permit’s spec.

Merab offered another broad, textbook justification for the ekki logs LiberTrace picked up as immature.

“This happens because logs have a conic shape with a bottom diameter higher than the top diameter. In the case of a crosscut of that log, the diameter and the length will reduce mainly at the top part of the initial log. Again, these are normal occurrences,” he said.

What Merab referenced is called the diameter at breast height cutting limit or DCL in the Guidelines for Forestry Management Planning. But it only measures a standing tree’s trunk or the tree butt end, not the top end or a crosscut log. It is measured at the height of an adult’s breasts.

Furthermore, the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) which writes the bible for the global wood trade describes ekki logs as cylindrical, not conical.   

Merab sidestepped the question regarding the FDA’s disapproval of the felling of a significant amount of West Water’s logs.  

A screenshot from LiberTrace detailing the history of the status of West Water’s 797 logs

But, remarkably, The DayLight obtained a LiberTrace screenshot detailing the history of the status of the export permit. It reveals that the FDA approved the export permit less than 48 hours after LiberTrace identified the “major traceability errors.” For an agency perennially plagued by financial, logistical and manpower constraints, that was too short a time to correct hundreds of legality issues surrounding the consignment.

A Serial Forestry Offender  

The West Water illegal export has added to Merab’s profile as a serial forestry offender.

His last known illegality was his participation in the infamous Private Use Permit Scandal in which his company Bopolu Development Corporation (BODECO) was illegally awarded 90,527 hectares of forest in Gbarpolu in the 2010s.

Before that, Merab traded “blood timber” alongside former President Charles Taylor, which fueled death and destruction in the Mano River basin between the 1990s and early 2000s, according to British NGO Global Witness.

The Regulation on Bidder Qualifications partially debars Merab and other wartime loggers from conducting forestry activities in Liberia, except if they meet special requirements. It, however, is unclear whether the regulation blocks Merab from heading the FDA.


[Gerald Koinyeneh of FrontPage Africa and our editor-at-large Emmanuel Sherman contributed to this report]

To get the estimated value of logs, The DayLight multiplied the total volume of each species of logs in the consignment by the FDA-approved price and summed up the products.

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 in smuggling 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 several 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 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 operator and community leader. 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 showcases 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 is a 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 requirements 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 and is 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 sign 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).

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