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Boakai Picks Illegal and Anti-Regulation Logger For FDA


Top: Rudolph Merab, the new Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority. Picture credit: The Liberia Timber Association

By James Harding Giahyue

  • President Joseph Boakai over the weekend nominated Rudolph Merab as Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA). Merab is an illegal logger and a critic of regulations and conservation efforts
  • Merab and ex-President Charles Taylor were business partners. Militiamen and ex-combatants guarded Merab’s Liberia Wood Management Corporation (LWMC) in the early 2000s, according to Global Witness
  • Bopolu Development Corporation (BODECO), another company Merab is associated with, participated in the biggest postwar logging scandal  
  • Merab is an outspoken cynic of regulation and conservation, things the FDA was established to enforce and promote
  • Boakai has known Merab for over 50 years and served as chairman of the board of directors of one of Merab’s companies

MONROVIA – President Joseph Boakai has appointed Rudolph Merab—a wartime business partner of ex-President Charles Taylor, whose company participated in Liberia’s biggest postwar, logging scandal—as the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).  Merab is an outspoken cynic of conservation and postwar regulations, key pillars of forestry reform.  

Boakai, who was inaugurated last month with a promise to fight corruption and uphold the rule of law, appointed Merab on Saturday following a month of speculations.

It is unclear whether Merab meets the legal requirements to head the FDA due to his well-documented illegal logging activities during Liberia’s deadly civil wars between 1989 and 2003. His company, Liberia Wood Management Corporation (LWMC), was the subject of international reports and was an issue during ex-President Taylor’s war crimes trial.

FDA’s Regulation on Bidder Qualifications partially debars wartime businesspeople such as Merab, who held a forestry contract before 2006, from conducting logging activities.

The regulation requires wartime loggers to file a sworn statement with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), admit their illegal activities and cooperate with the FDA to recover funds the government lost due to their illegal activities. However, the regulation is silent on whether or not a wartime logger is eligible to head the agency.

Also, Merab, who has a degree in physics, does not meet the educational qualifications for the job. The FDA Act requires the head of the agency to be “professionally educated in forestry.”

Campaigners had called on Boakai to respect that clause in the FDA act as part of his expressed quest for respect for the rule of law.  

Rudolph Merab (standing behind President Joseph Boakai) and other alumni of the College of West Africa. Picture credit: Facebook/Ernest Bruce

“At this present state of Liberia’s forestry industry, it needs someone with the necessary skills, contact, and connections… to turn the forestry sector around… beyond mere logging,” communities affected by logging contracts said in a statement last week.

“The sector is at a critical juncture, as numerous initiatives have failed to meet expectations over the past six to 10 years,” the statement added.  

Boakai’s relationship with Merab goes way back. They met at the College of West Africa, with Boakai graduating in 1967 and Merab five years thereafter. Boakai later served as chairman of the board of directors of LWMC, sources, including Boakai’s campaign website, show.

Merab declined an interview with The DayLight.

Merab, the wartime logger

LWMC was founded in 1988 with Merab’s 10 percent share among a list of shareholders that included his late brother Edward Merab. It held a contract for Grand Cape Mount and Lofa. By the end of the Second Liberian Civil War (1997 – 2003), LWMC valued between US$500,000 and US$1 million and had about 300 workers, according to international investigators.

LWMC’s properties in then-Lower Lofa, Bomi and Grand Cape Mount Counties were protected by ex-combatants and armed militiamen, Global Witness reported. Within the first six months of 2000 alone, LWMC exported 12,810.062 cubic meters of logs, according to FDA records.

In 2001, Merab told an American publication that LWMC shipped small Liberian timber to the United States. Oriental Timber Corporation (OTC), the forerunner of Taylor’s timber and arms trafficking syndicate, exported to the United States.

Between 1999 and 2003, LWMC owed the government over US$1.3 million, according to a report by the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI).  The Taylor regime waived the amount, according to an email thread linked to the Ministry of Finance. Then Minister of Finance Nathaniel Barnes told a legislative inquiry that the regime had waived Merab’s arrears “to save 300 jobs.”

Rebels of the Liberia United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), which had launched an armed incursion against Taylor, attacked LWMC’s premises in Gbarpolu in the 2000s.

The rebel told United Nations personnel they wanted to discourage Merab from doing business with Taylor, according to a 2001 UN Security Council report. The UN would sanction Liberian timber adding to a string of arms embargoes against the country.

A review of the forestry sector in 2005 found, “At least 17 logging companies either supported militias in Liberia, participated in, or facilitated illegal arms trafficking, or aided or abetted civil instability.”

The review found that all forestry concessions, including LWMC’s, had been illegally awarded. This prompted President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to cancel all the existing forestry contracts in 2006. Her administration awarded new contracts, a precursor for the lifting of the UN sanctions that same year.

At his war crimes trial in 2010, prosecutors at the Special Court for Sierra Leone cross-examined Taylor on an accusation that he channeled money through Merab to rebels in Sierra Leone. Taylor denied the accusation but was eventually found guilty of running arms and smuggling diamonds with the Sierra Leonean rebels. He is serving a 50-year sentence for his role in that war, which killed some 70,000 in Sierra Leone.   

An estimated 250,000 people died in Liberia in wars that were fueled by a scramble for logs and other natural resources, the TRC said. Unlike Sierra Leone, Liberia has yet to address crimes committed during its wars.

Merab’s Postwar Illegal Deeds

Bopolu Development Corporation (BODECO), another company Merab owns, was involved in the Private Use Permit (PUP) Scandal of 2012 in which 2.5 million hectares of forestlands were illegally awarded to logging companies.

A government-backed inquiry found that BODECO was awarded 90,527 hectares in Bopolu District, Gbarpolu County, the fifth-highest area of the 66 illegal permits.

Locals in Henry Town, a popular mining community were among several whose hopes were dashed by BODECO in the PUP Scandal. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

BODECO did not have the financial and technical capacity to conduct logging in Liberia, the inquiry found. The permit was issued in BODECO’s name while the Korninga Chiefdom had submitted the application.

BODECO and the FDA also violated requirements of the permit. The permit is issued only for forests on private lands. However, investigators found that Bopolu was communal land, not private.

“Both FDA and BODECO knew or should have known that they were executing a contract with material falsehood…,” investigators said.

Following the inquiry, BODECO’s and the other 65 permits were revoked and a moratorium imposed on the forest contract remains in place. Moses Wogbeh, the FDA Managing Director who oversaw the scandal, was dismissed and prosecuted.

BODECO failed to provide a school, roads, harvesting and land rental fees, and  a clinic, leaving hundreds of logs to rot.

George Ballah Sumo, the Paramount Chief of Korninga Chiefdom blamed Merab and other BODECO executives for dashing the hopes of locals.

A cynic of regulations and conservation

Wartime logging and the PUP Scandal aside, Merab is an outspoken critic of forestry regulatory regime and conservation. Forestry has the most regulations in Liberia, while the conservation is one of the pillars of the sector’s reform agenda. 

BODECO left hundreds of logs it harvested with its illegal private use permit (PUP) Gbarpolu County to decay. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Merab’s appointment comes at a time of rising violations of forestry laws and regulations. Illegal logging, unsustainable harvesting practices and disregard for communities’ rights are commonplace. A recent review of the sector found 11 concessions illegal and the FDA complicit in the illegalities.  

In a 2015 interview with the African Report, Merab said sustainable logging had not been achieved due to “taxation and restrictive legal regime.”  

“Since the new logging restrictions, most of the rural economy has ceased, impoverishing the rural areas,” Merab said in the interview.

Merab also criticized a deal between Liberia and Norway in which Liberia received US$150 million to halt deforestation. Merab argued that the agreement hurt investors, businesspeople, and logging employees. He promised to campaign against it on grounds that loggers were not consulted, comparing it to the Sirleaf administration’s decision to cancel his and other logging contracts back in 2006.

“We Africans got to think outside the box,” Merab, the president of the Liberia Timber Association up to his appointment, told FrontPage Africa in 2017.  “The neo-colonial issue cannot continue to affect us,” he said. “You got to learn to stop letting people fool us.  They’re the ones exploiting us, especially Norway.”

[Additional reporting by Charles Gbayor and Esau J. Farr, Sr.]

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

Minister Breaks Laws With Shares In Mining and Logging Company


Top: Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Cooper Kruah illegally holds a five percent stake in a mining and logging company. Illustration by Leslie Lumeh

By James Harding Giahyue

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series on Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Cooper Kruah’s conflict of interest as a shareholder in Universal Forestry Corporation, a mining and logging company operating in Grand Bassa and Nimba.

MONROVIA – Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Cooper Kruah holds shares in a company actively mining and logging in Liberia, a violation of laws governing the two industries as well as a breach of the Liberian Constitution and the Code of Conduct for Public Officials, an investigation by The DayLight has found.

Kruah holds five percent of the shares in Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC), according to the firm’s legal document. UFC has had 11 mining licenses since his appointment in February 2018, records of the Ministry of Mines and Energy show. The company had held a few logging concessions prior to Kruah becoming a cabinet minister. However, it began to acquire a flurry of mining licenses after he became the Postmaster General. The company currently has a logging agreement.

Of the nearly one dozen UFC mining licenses, 10 are for semi-industrial-scale gold mining, prospecting,  and dealer licenses, and the other is a diamond broker license. Four of these permits are still active. The company operates the mines and dealerships in Montserrado, Grand Bassa and Nimba. One of its goldmines in Nimba had been the setting of a 2019 mine accident, which killed at least five people, according to the BBC.

The company produced 16.85 kilograms of gold, valued at US$313,525 in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI), one of the biggest contributors in the sector that year. From that period to last year, it paid the government US$99,545, according to the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA).

His equity in UFC is a violation of the Minerals and Mining Law of 2000. The statute debars “the President of Liberia, the Vice President of Liberia, any member of the National Legislature, Justices of the Supreme Court and Judges of the subordinate courts of records, cabinet ministers, managing directors of public corporations during their tenure in office.”

Kruah had established UFC in 1986 with an initial 25 percent shares, which reduced to five percent when the company amended its article of incorporation in 2007, the document shows. Its other shareholders include Edward Slangar, former advisor to the late President Samuel Doe, and B.J. Kim and Jin Kyung, two foreign nationals. Kruah also serves as the secretary of the company’s board of directors and has been cited in official communications, seen by The DayLight, as its lawyer.

To prevent a conflict of interest, the law mandates a government official to either “dispose of such mineral right or place such mineral right in a blind trust,” a business that takes care of private investment interests without the interference of the owner. There are no records that Kruah, who has been fighting cybercrimes,  has done either of those things.   

Kruah faces a US$2,000 fine, a 24-month prison term, or both penalties if convicted in a court, according to the mining law.

A mine in Nimba County operated by Universal Forestry Corporation, one of whose shareholders is Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Cooper Kruah. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

The Ministry of Mines and Energy did not respond to The DayLight’s queries for comments on the matter up to press time. We will update this report once it does.  

UFC also has a logging agreement with Sehzueplay Community Forest in Tappita District, Nimba County,  the same region the company operates the majority of its goldmines. The agreement for the 8,690-hectare rocky woodland was signed on January 30, 2020, nearly two years after Kruah’s appointment.

That, again, breaks the National Forestry Reform Law, which rules out public officials from holding any logging permit above one percent. Like the mining statute, the forestry law compels an official of government to transfer ownership of the “entity outside the person’s influence and control, such as an unrelated individual or a blind trust…” There are no records that Kruah has done that as well.    

The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) approving UFC’s agreement with Sehzueplay with Kruah one of the company’s shareholders also breaches the FDA Ten Core Regulations, a set of dos and don’ts of the logging sector. Regulation 103-07 in particular disqualifies companies whose shareholders are members of the government from being prequalified for logging licenses.   

The Managing Director of the FDA Mike Doryen told The DayLight in a mobile phone interview that the agency was investigating the matter. “Rest assured, we will take the appropriate action,” Doryen said. “I will not protect any official of government who breaks the law.”

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.

It is not the first time that UFC has violated forestry legal frameworks. It was involved in the notorious  Private Use Permit (PUP) Scandal, in which an estimated 2.5 million hectares of forests—or 23 percent of the country’s landmass—was illegally awarded to logging companies. A government-backed inquest found the company broke the law in different instances while logging in Geetroh, Butaw District of Sinoe County between 2010 and 2012. That investigation found that UFC did not have an environmental permit or a certificate to harvest trees and that it paid community benefits into a personal account. UFC’s PUP and 62 others were canceled and a moratorium remains in place on the permit.  

Kruah’s stakes in UFC are also a breach of the Code of Conduct, which defines conflict of interest as “when a public official, contrary to official obligations and duties to act for the benefit of the public, exploits a relationship for personal benefit.” Under this law, he faces a fine, suspension and dismissal, among other penalties.

The Code of Conduct has its roots in the Liberian Constitution, which says, “No person, whether elected or appointed to any public office, shall engage in any other activity which shall be against public policy, or constitute [a] conflict of interest.”

Jin Kyung, UFC’s general manager, denied Kruah is a shareholder in the company. Kyung said the copy of the company’s legal documents The DayLight has was not genuine but refused to share his copy, claiming it was a private document. That claim is wrong as a company’s article of incorporation is a public record under the Business Corporation Act and the Freedom of Information Act as well as the logging law.

Kruah did not grant The DayLight an interview on his violations, asking us to “publish anything you want to” in November last year. He had accepted our request for an interview but insisted we did not record the conversation.

The news comes barely a week after the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) called for the prosecution of several officials of government, including Minister of Agriculture Jeanine Cooper, for alleged conflict of interest.

Some of the logs Universal Forestry Corporation illegally felled in the Sehzueplay Community Forest in Nimba County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

This story was a collaboration with the Center for Transparency and Accountability of Liberia (CENTAL), with funding from the Swedish Development Agency (SIDA). It is an activity under the CENTAL’s ongoing National Integrity Building and Anti-Corruption (NIBA) program.