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Minister behind bars over massive giveaway of Liberian forests

(GIN) — Two years after learning of the massive giveaway of Liberia’s treasured forests to foreign logging companies, the Liberian government, (the week of Feb. 23), locked up the former head of the Forestry Development Authority.

Moses Wogbeh, former head of the forestry authority, was arrested and charged with allegedly defrauding the country of millions of dollars by issuing bogus permits between 2006 and 2012.

Whistleblowers including the Liberia-based Save My Future Foundation, U.S.-based Global Witness, and the Canadian Sustainable Development Institute first raised the red flag over questionable permits that gave rights to nearly 6.1 million acres — 23 percent of Liberia’s forests — to foreign logging interests.

Logs were seen leaving the country even after Pres. Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson stepped in and ordered a halt to timber exports.

Reporters who traveled to remote areas where contracts with loggers were signed found a trail of broken promises.

In Tawalata, district of Korninga, elders of the small town said the loggers hurriedly convened meetings with community leaders, telling them they had one chance to sign leases that supposedly would give their towns a school, a clinic, scholarships and jobs, $1,000 a month stipend for “senior citizens” and roads and bridges “built up to standard”.

“We were given 20 minutes to read the document,” said Obester Younga, principal of Tawalata Public School. The documents were in English, not Kpelle, the local language.

Silas Siakor, head of the Sustainable Development Institute, added: “Communities have been lied to, they’ve been misled, they’ve been coerced into these agreements.”

A published letter from Global Witness, which warned of “timber pirates,” noted:  “There is precious little evidence that industrial logging in the tropics reduces poverty. If the Liberian government insists on turning its forests over to the global timber industry, it should, at a minimum, exclude firms that have a documented history of destruction and abuse.”

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