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Police Arrest ‘Black Sand’ Miners in Sinoe

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Top: Four of the Vietnamese mineworkers arrested by the police in Bannah, Sinoe County. Picture credit: Facebook/Butaw Radio TV


By Gabriel M. Dixon


GREENVILLE – Police in Sinoe County have arrested nearly a dozen Vietnamese nationals for allegedly violating a mining moratorium, local media reported.

Eight men were detained on Saturday on the order of Superintendent Peter Wleh Nyenswah.

“This initiative is intended to buttress the national government’s effort in the fight against illicit mining,” Nyenswah told Radio Butaw. 

 The men work for STT Heavy Mineral Resources Limited, a medium-scale company that mines zircon sand commonly called “black sand” in Greenville. The Vietnamese-owned company has five active black sand mining licenses in Sinoe County, the ministry’s records show.

Nguyen Thanh Truc, STT’s majority shareholder, did not immediately respond to queries.

An STT mining plant in Morrisville, Sinoe County in January 2023. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

Last month, the government of Liberia banned black sand mining across the country after a video of an illegally extracted stockpile of the minerals, posted by a citizen journalist, went viral on Facebook.   Before that, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined  Quezp Mining Company in Brewerville and Royesville for operating without an environmental permit.

EPA Shuts Down and Fines Firms for Violations

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Top: Acting EPA Executive Director, Dr. Emmanuel Urey Yarkpawolo (Left). The DayLight/ Esau J. Farr


By Esau J. Farr


MONROVIA­­ – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has fined two companies and shut down another for violations of the Environmental Protection and Management Law.

East International Construction Company, which builds roads, got the lion’s share of the fines.

“East International is hereby fined US$55,000 to be paid in Government Revenue at the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) with an official receipt presented to the EPA,” Acting EPA Executive Director Dr. Emmanuel Yarkpawolo told a news conference on Tuesday.

An EPA investigation found East International operates under an expired environmental permit, Yarkpawolo said. Investigators also found the company liable for air pollution over its construction of the Roberts International Airport Highway.

“Some people reported respiratory problems such as coughing and asthma as the major health issues affecting them,” Yarkpawolo said. He ordered East International to follow the law.

The EPA shut down Fengshou International, an affiliate of East International.

Yarkpawolo said the company would remain closed “until a more sustainable method is approved by the EPA.”

The company unsustainably backfilled and was constructing a two-kilometer road on a portion of the Marshall Wetland in Margibi County,  protected under a UN convention. The EPA also found that Fengshou extended its rock quarrying into the wetland and constructed a rock sale point there without authorization.

East International and Fengshou did not immediately respond to queries.

Wetlands

The EPA says it was taking wetlands’ protection seriously, and citizens closest to the mangroves.

“In the coming days, the EPA will conduct a thorough engagement with relevant institutions of government and other stakeholders to curtail the upsurge in the wave of wetland degradations,” Dr. Yarkpawolo said.

“Recent complaints and EPA field assessment reports have highlighted massive clearing of mangroves along the Police Academy SKD Boulevard, as well as backfilling activities, including Pago’s Island, New Matadi Fanti Town, Dixville, Jacob Town, etc,” Yarkpawolo said.

The EPA called on the media to help in providing public awareness and asked the public to cooperate with the agency in protecting wetlands.

“The EPA will be engaging with relevant law enforcement authorities to arrest all violators,” Yarkpawolo added.

The EPA fined Quezp Mining Company US$2,999 and ordered it to fund a US$12,999 restoration plan for two zircon-sand mines it operates in Brewerville and Royesville. The DayLight/Charles Gbayor

Earlier, the EPA ordered Quezp Mining Corporation Inc. to pay nearly US$16,000 for illegal sand mining activities in Brewerville and Royesville. A DayLight investigation showed that Quezp did not have licenses for the operations. The company’s mineworkers fled the area after the publication.

The EPA fined Quezp US$2,999 for mining without an environmental permit. It mandated the company to restore the environment it disturbed in the two communities with a US$12,999 plan.

Yarkpawolo said that the fines must be paid in three days after official communication with Quezp.

Terrence Collins, Quezp’s owner and CEO, did not respond to queries for comments on the matter.  

The Miners Stealing A Special Sand In Brewerville, Royesville

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Top: Quezp runs an illegal zircon sand mine in Brewerville, where it operates a plant. The DayLight/Charles Gbayor


By Charles Gbayor


BREWERVILLE; ROYCEVILLE – Quezp Mining Company, a Liberian-owned firm, has a pair of licenses for mines in Sinoe County. However, it operates two illegal mines in suburban and rural Montserrado, according to an investigation by The DayLight.

Established in May 2022 by Terrance Collins, a Liberian businessman, Quezp acquired the two licenses to prospect for zircon sand in Kpanyan District, Sinoe, official records show.

But the company established two other operations in Brewerville and Royceville without any licenses. Official records show that it does not have any active licenses other than the ones in Sinoe. There are no records of a Quezp license being under review, surrendered, suspended, canceled, or expired.  

Quezp has operated the illegal mines since February 2022, according to residents and people involved in the illicit operations. That was about three months before the company was established and more than a year before it obtained the licenses for Sinoe.

“I am here most often with my pickup for transportation business and I see them pass here with the sand most often,” said Saah Amara, a resident who transports building materials into Brewerville.  “We want them to leave this place because they are not helping us at all.”

Mining without a license is an offense under the Minerals and Mining Law. Violators face a fine of up to US$2,000 and a 24-month maximum prison term, or both fine and imprisonment if convicted by a court.

‘We mine black sand’

Quezp conducts the two operations as one. The company buys zircon sand from Royceville and transports the mineral to its mine and processing plant in Brewerville.

Fifteen minutes from the VOA Junction, the Brewerville site is nearly surrounded by a huge, green mangrove and palm forest. It is several yards away from the ocean.

Denied access to the site, The DayLight used a drone to sight the mine. The elevated view showed the royal blue plant enveloped by giant-sized piles of zircon sands. A forklift loaded a truck with 25-kilogram bags filled with the mineral, used in the ceramics industry. China and Australia are the biggest importers of zircon sand, with Africa an emerging market. Global trade is estimated to reach US$3.69 billion by 2029. 

Representatives of Quezp purchase zircon sand from residents in the rural Montserrado area for up to US$75 for a truckload, the residents said.  

Gus Doe Howe, Sr., a trucker who lives in that region, commonly called Tony, transfers the sand to a particular location.

The records of the Ministry of Mines and Energy show that Quezp Mining Company does not have a license for its operations in Brewerville and Royceville

Afterward, the company transports it to Brewerville, processes and prepares the mineral for export, the residents said.

“I am a fisherman but I also do black sand mining for daily survival. The sand we mined has been sold at US$20 for a pickup load and US$75 for a truckload,” Jacob Jackson, a Royceville resident told The DayLight in an interview at the mining site.

“We mine black sand here and one guy named Tony comes here daily with his pickup to buy it and transport it,” Justine Gayflor another RoyceVille resident. Black sand is the local name for zircon sand.

The DayLight photographed about a dozen mounts of sand in an array on a Royceville beach. Large holes lined up nearby as the ocean gradually reclaimed the disturbed shoreline.

Quezp Mining Company illegally operates on a beach in Royesville, Rural Montserrado. The DayLight/Charles Gbayor

Tony confirmed his involvement in the illegal activities in a phone interview. He had left the area four hours earlier when The DayLight arrived there, residents said. Tony, however, denied buying the mineral on behalf of Quezp.

“I, just go there with my pickup to transport the sand for them from the mining site and I take it to a point where the guys who buy from the company can get it,” Tony said.

Collins, Quezp’s owner, is linked to other companies—Wayful Mining Company Limited, Hauli Company Liberia Limited and Glorious Mining Company, to name some. They hold some of the 52 zircon sand licenses the Ministry of Mines and Energy issued from 2012 to last year, the records show.

Collins declined an interview with The DayLight.


[This version of the story corrects an earlier version that spelled Royesville “Royceville.”]

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

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

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created by dji camera

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


By James Harding Giahyue and Gerald C. Koinyeneh


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Loopholes’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Mark Newa and Johnson Buchanan contributed to this story]

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

Man Dies at Buchanan Port offloading Sand

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Top: Sandbags that the late Lamin Kamara offloaded from a boat before he died on last Wednesday.  The DayLight/Johnson Buchanan   


By Emmanuel Sherman


BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa County – A man died at the Port of Buchanan last Friday after a boat fell on top of him.

Lamin Kamara, 28, died while resting under a boat that was under repair after offloading several bags of zircon sand.

“Some people say he fell to sleep. Other people say it was the swells of the sea towards the port, while another group of people says he slipped and the boat felled on him,” said Francis Doegbee, a cousin of the deceased.

Doegbee said an Ivorian businessman had hired Kamara in Sinoe, where he lived with his wife and two children.

“He was working with Oliver Gboyoh who owns a lot of boats that usually transport goods to Buchanan, from Maryland, Sinoe and also bring black sand from there for some Chinese group of companies,” Doegbee said.

Kamara had traveled from Sinoe to offload a huge consignment of zircon sand locals call black sand. Jatoken, a company, mines the mineral used in the ceramics and electronics industries worldwide. He was pictured offloading the mineral into 25-kilogram bags minutes before his fatal accident.

Efforts to contact Gboyoh, the boatowner, proved unsuccessful. Our reporter called his phone but was not on.

Kamara was buried on Saturday in line with Islamic traditions.   

Sinoe Residents Protest Against Chinese Miners’ Operation

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A Kru tribesman protests against a min


By James Harding Giahyue


DU-WOLEE, Sinoe County – Villagers in a township in Sinoe County’s Kpayan District last week blocked the entrance of a company mining sand in that area, claiming not to have taken part in a memorandum of understanding with their community.

The protestors, some dressed in warlike traditional outfits, and set up roadblocks, chanted battle cries in the Du-Wolee township, demanding their concerns about jobs and other benefits be addressed.

“We are stopping them because there is no understanding between them and us,” said Daddy Nyanswah, the spokesperson for the protestors, in a town hall meeting. “The MoU they even signed, community people don’t get one. It’s between [them] and the Commissioner.

“They have been for over four months now, and calling them to meet they will not come so for their own bogus MoU they agree they have,” Nyanswah added.  

“They told the community that before the operation we will come to you people and employ 25 persons for the first phase. Today they’re doing their own thing they started the operation,” a furious Nyanswah said.

Darius Nagbe, the Commissioner of Du-Wolee township denied the villages did not participate in the signing of the agreement, dubbing Nyanswah and other protestors “detractors.”  

“That information is far from the truth, it’s from the belly of the devil,” Nagbe told The DayLight in an interview in Blue Barracks, where the protest was taking place. “Everybody came from all angles, they all assembled here and the MoU was signed.”

Nagbe’s comments were backed by Lawrence Kwame Frank, an interpreter with the Chinese-Liberian-owned. DayLight has requested a copy of the agreement.

But a video on Nagbe’s mobile phone shows people of the township signing a document, with officials of the county, including Nagbe.

Glorious Mining Company Inc. has a five-year semi-industrial scale license to mine sand on 25 acres on Du-Wolee’s beachfront. This reporter visited the firm’s mine and witnessed Liberian and Asian workers erecting camp houses and setting up equipment. Huge sandbars could be seen at a number of locations, an indication mining was taking place.

Glorious Mining Company Inc. Has a five-year sand mining license in Kpayan District, Sinoe County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

It was unclear whether the company was mining sand or zircon sand, a mineral used in the electronics and ceramics industries. Its equipment looks like those of a zircon-sand mining operation, while its license says sand.

The license also shows that the company was only awarded the rights to mine in that area on 21st December, just under two weeks before the protest. However, the company had been working there six months earlier, according to residents and Frank.

Frank said the Glorious was only testing its equipment and would begin actual employment soon as it promised in the MoU.

“The employment we talking about I am working after the workers’ employment,” Frank said as two Chinese men by his side. “Employment is a process.  If I prepare I have to send it to labor they will see it before I print it out. I have more than 200 employment forms in my house.

“We been here for six months, we just building our residence, we will not be working here and we are in Greenville. So building our residence and the equipment we will be using to do the work,” he added.   

News of the protest reached the police in Greenville, Sinoe’s capital less than one kilometer away. The police then brokered a peace talk between the protestors and the company, ending the protest.

“We are here for peace,” said Charles Daniel Nyegbah, a traditional leader, dressed in palm leaves and grass and posted at the barricade. “I am here for peace am not here for bloodshed.”

A tribesman stands at a roadblock set up in protest against the operation of Glorious Mining Company in Du-Wolee, Sinoe County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue  

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

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