ACC sniffing out corruption in a wood pile

by Adam Hartman

ILLEGAL CARGO … Some of the alleged illegal timber cargo impounded at Walvis Bay recently.

THE Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is investigating two cases of the illegal transit and corrupt trading in timber in Namibia.

Although the two matters are distinct from one another, ACC chief investigator Nelius Becker said the investigation of one stemming from the Zambezi region over the past year led to the discovery of the other just last week at Walvis Bay.

Last Thursday, the ACC followed up on information circulating on social media of trucks having been seen at the Walvis Bay weighbridge transporting timber suspected of being the products of illegal logging. This led to the discovery of timber, a load of 121 ‘mkula’ logs.

The mkula tree is a slow grower, and faces extinction because of indiscriminate logging. It has become sought-after, and is considered amongst the best hardwood in the world.

The ACC seized the cargo, and launched an investigation after discovering alleged forged transit documents. The wood was apparently loaded at Sesheke Hardwood Limited in Zambia, and was in transit through Namibia for the Zheijiang Wutong Tree Supply Chain Management Company Limited in China. It is believed the wood is from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

On Monday, the ACC seized more of the timber in transit. The Zambian truck on which it was being transported was also impounded.

Becker said five Zambian trucks’ timber cargoes were seized, and will remain in Namibia until the investigation is finalised. He told The Namibian yesterday that he believed three of the consignments were illegal, and that a case under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act will be lodged as soon as next week.

He explained that when the transit permits were inspected, it was discovered that they may have been forged as certain parts of the certificates had the same serial numbers, with some details describing the consignments having been changed.

It also suggested that the treatment of the wood (required prior to export) was done in May last year, but the wood was only exported from Zambia in December – a gap of six months, which is contrary to international standards that require such treatment to be done 14 days before export.

“There are reasonable grounds to suspect that the documentation provided for and submitted in Namibia, either at the point of entry or to authorised officials of the ACC, are forgeries. This raises suspicions as to the origin of the timber, and why it would have been necessary to utilise forged documentation,” an ACC investigations report states. “It is now becoming more evident that a network of agents on the Zambian and Namibian sides of the borders are the facilitators of this documentation.”

Besides the trucks from Zambia, two other trucks were also stopped, and cargoes of rosewood timber confiscated. This consignment is central to another case being investigated by the ACC, and relates to the tender to clear the Katima and Liselo farms in the Zambezi region.

It is suspected that the company who got the contract of about N$30 million from government to clear the farms for agricultural projects allegedly reached a deal with a Chinese company to sell the timber “ridiculously” cheap, and to export it to China.

Becker explained that the question was why the company doing the clearing did not indicate in its bid that it intented to sell the wood. Had it done so, the price the wood was to be sold for would have been calculated into the contract.

He said the agriculture ministry responded that there had been no such declaration of intent in the company’s bid, which raised suspicions of abuse of office, as well as forestry resources mismanagement.

The rosewood, worth millions (but sold cheaply for about N$200 per log), was apparently being sold by the company to a Chinese company, and 24 containers of the timber have already been exported via Walvis Bay to China. The selling of the wood commercially could have raised at least N$30 million, the chief investigator noted.