China Bets Big In African Trade Industry

Stock Exchange
(Photo: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

Large scale illegal timber trade operations which involved large companies including Chinese and Americans were discovered in West Africa. The D.C.-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) conducted a four-year investigation in which they uncovered that they found evidence of illegal behavior by Chinese-owned Dejia Group.

The investigation said that the company was involved in bribery, over-harvesting of trees, and tax evasion. In the report, an EIA undercover investigators and a DG representative explained how suitcases filled with about $172,000 was handed to a minister for the Republic of Congo's government on more than one occasion.

The records obtained by the EIA also emphasized that DG affiliate SICOFOR overharvested an estimated 15,000 trees from 2013 and 2016 in Gadon. More than a third of the harvests were tree species listed as either vulnerable or endangered by the IUCN.

One of the incidents of illegal trade included a timber called okoumé which is derived from a hardwood tree that grows only in Gabon, the Republic of Congo (ROC), Equatorial Guinea and a very small area of Cameroon. The tree is used as a veneer or the hard outer layer of the plywood and for panels or sidings used in home construction and renovation.

The report termed it as a toxic trade and it identified companies affiliated to a DG as the primary players in the illegal activity. Evergreen Hardwoods and Cornerstone Forest Products, imports okoumé into the United States and Rosenburg where it is processed into plywood, is also involved in the trade after they failed to properly research the origin of the wood as they are required under the United States Lacey Act.

The wood siding products are sold in retailers including Home Depot and Menard's where they are marketed as being environmentally friendly.

Lisa Handy, EIA director of forest campaigns, told Mongabay that the buyer for both Evergreen and Cornerstone, Jim Green, positioned himself as the key interface between the U.S. and Africa.

She added that all the okoumé was funneled through him, and he knew very well - that's what he told us - from whom he was buying and what their practices were, and how he too played a role in the corruption as an accessory.

Ms. Handy also said that they feel something may happen in Gabon. She added that Gabon had a major crackdown on illegal logging, and it resulted in 13 companies paying fines of some $14 million last year.

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