Illegal loggers arrested
28 Suspects, 5 Chinese Arrested in North Gabon.
Gabonese law enforcement officials arrested twenty eight people including 5 Chinese nationals and 6 government officials for illegally trafficking in bubinga, a highly priced and protected tree species. The operation that resulted in a series of arrests that spanned close to a month started following an investigative mission that enabled a Gabonese State Prosecutor to stop and search a truck carrying the wood.
When a truck carrying the huge log of bubinga, also known in Gabon as kevazingo, was stopped in Makokou, North East Gabon, by the Prosecutor accompanied by Judicial Police officers, the Gendarmerie and a team from the Gabonese forestry law enforcement support project known by its French acronym ALEFI, the driver presented a document issued in the name of a well known timber exploiter that showed a permission was granted to collect fallen or already dead wood.
Two days later, investigators searched the place and found that the tree was cut, nearly a hundred kilometers from the town. The investigations revealed that the Kevazingo tree was cut down by the time exploiter, who came to the village with a Chinese national. The Chinese then bought the illegally cut timber. On Monday 19th October, 2015 a series of clampdown operations carried out led to the arrest of the first suspects including two forestry and wildlife officials who were implicated in the deals. Some government officials including two top provincial officials among several suspects were later arrested. The suspects are now facing a court trial while one of the Chinese has been sentenced to three months imprisonment and ordered to pay fines and damages of 5 million CFA F.
Bubinga also found in Cameroon and totally protected by the 1994 law, is an extremely rare tree species that is threatened by extinction due to illegal logging. Timber from bubinga, which takes many years to mature, is highly valued in Asia. The Japanese and Chinese use it to make furniture, but also wooden bells and other musical instruments. In 2001, the Gabonese Government enacted laws to protect the tree that is considered sacred but experts say illegal logging and corruption have been undermining such efforts.
According to sources close the case, the State Prosecutor Alain Georges Moukoko not only resisted corruption following the operation but equally ordered for the arrest of two people who attempted to bribe him with 4,000 US dollars for the release of the Chinese trafficker. After their arrest, the State Prosecutor said that “These two men will be judged, like the Chinese and his men who are used to violating Gabonese law and are devastating the forest without fearing the law”.
The ALEFI project that technically assisted the operations is one of two projects that work in the domain of forestry and wildlife law enforcement and run by Gabonese conservation group Conservation Justice. The projects are modeled and were replicated from the Cameroon wildlife law enforcement model based on the collaboration between the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF) and The Last Great Ape Organisation (LAGA). These projects including LAGA operate under a network called EAGLE.