The timber case is the second high-profile case the Trial International has brought against a former ally of ex-president Yahya Jammeh in less than 3 years. In January 2017, the international rights watchdog lodged a criminal complaint against Ousman Sonko, a longterm Interior Minister of Jammeh who is currently facing charges relating to crimes against humanity in Switzerland.
Trial International, Swiss-based rights watchdog, has filed a criminal complaint against a former associate of ex-president Yahya Jammeh, Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu, in illegal timber trade. The rights-watchdog filed its complaint with the Swiss Office of the Attorney General accusing Buzaianu of having pillaged conflict timber.
Buzaianu is a Swiss national of Romanian descent.
“… We learned that the MFDC issued transport permits that allowed the traders to move the timber across Casamance, through territory controlled by the MFDC. These permits were then shown to officials in The Gambia to prove that the rosewood was, indeed, not Gambian,” said Ferrer, Trial International’s lead investigator.
“We obtained a number of these permits dated between 2014 and 2016 showing that they were issued in villages controlled by the MFDC. We also had access to recordings showing that several members of the MFDC was profiting from this trade at around the same time (2014-2016) in connection with Westwood exports.”
A Swiss national partnered with – and benefited from – former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, accused by the Gambian Commission of Inquiry of having stolen millions of dollars in state funds.
The MFDC exercised de facto control over the timber trade out of Lower Casamance by issuing authorizations for logging and transport permits and by providing safe passage to the timber traders.
Westwood benefited generously from this trade, transferring millions of dollars in profits to individuals and companies associated with Former President Jammeh and Mr. Buzaianu.
The illegal felling of rosewood has had a detrimental impact on the Senegalese forests, contributing to declines in rainfall and desertification, as well as preventing the sustainable livelihood of local communities.
A 2-year investigation by Gambian authorities has also found Buzaianu to be a close associate of Jammeh. Between June 2014 and March 2017, Westwood, a Gambian company owned by entities affiliated to Mr. Buzaianu and former President Jammeh, allegedly exported over 315 million tons of Pterocarpus erinaceus to China (roughly equivalent to USD 163 million).
Investigations by Trial International uncovered that rosewood species was illegally harvested from the neighboring Casamance region, where the armed group the Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC), has been fighting the Senegalese army since the 1980s.
With Jammeh as an ally, the MFDC was able to monopolize the timber trade in Lower Casamance, using its profits to finance its armed struggle, said Trial International in a report released on Monday.
The international rights watchdog said Westwood benefited generously from this trade, transferring its profits to individuals and companies associated with Former President Jammeh and Mr. Buzaianu.
Gambian rosewood was nearly depleted since 2011. BBC Africa Eye’s documentary “The Trees that Bleed: How rosewood is smuggled from Senegal into Gambia” shows the role of the Casamance rebels in the timber trade.
For several decades, large areas of this region have been under the control of the separatist armed group, the Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC).
“Exploiting natural resources from a conflict zone is a war crime that must be punished. Without the pillaging of natural resources, many armed groups would have no means of financing their wars,” said Montse Ferrer, Senior Legal Advisor and Corporate Accountability Coordinator at TRIAL International.
“Despite numerous documented cases of pillage, not a single conviction against corporate actors has been made since the end of World War II.”
“We have waited until today to go public because we wanted to give the Swiss prosecutorial authorities sufficient time to review the evidence and take decisive action against Mr. Buzaianu. We are hopeful that these steps have been taken and that the OAG is investigating the matter,” she added.