Global Witness is calling on the Government of Liberia to investigate the managements of Forest Ventures and Mandra Forestry to determine the extent of the companies’ links to Oriental Timber Company (OTC), one of the most notorious logging companies operating during Liberia wartime. OTC controlled large swathes of Liberia’s forests, facilitated numerous arms shipments in violation of a UN Security Council embargo and maintained security forces that fought alongside Charles Taylor’s soldiers. The country’s civil war was fuelled, in part, by the international trade in timber.
Based upon these facts, the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) concluded that the company aided or abetted civil instability during the country’s war, Global Witness said in a recent report on Liberia.
Global Witness, in the report posted online said it has received reports of potential links between two companies, Forest Ventures and Mandra Forestry Liberia, and the wartime logging company OTC.
Forest Ventures and Mandra Forestry Liberia are Private Use Permits (PUPs) holders.
According to Global Witness, under Liberian law, companies with links to OTC may be barred from holding logging contracts.
Global Witness disclosed that as a result of the destructive role played by logging companies during the civil war, Liberia’s reformed forest law bars companies from bidding on logging licenses if they have significant individuals who aided or abetted civil disturbances involving the use of weapons.
“Under the law, significant individuals are those who have real control over a company, including staff with corporate fiscal authority and members of a board of directors,” Global Witness disclosed.
“It has been reported to Global Witness that both Forest Ventures and Mandra Forestry Liberia have significant individuals who were senior managers at OTC. Forest Ventures holds nine PUPs and is part of the network of Liberia-based logging companies linked to Samling,” the report indicated.
According to Forest Ventures’ Business Registry documents, one William Hock Kong Yii is listed as “empowered to bind” the company.
Global Witness said based upon interviews commissioned by it, three individuals with knowledge of Forest Ventures and OTC operations independently identified one William Yii as a logging manager now operating in Liberia, although they did not identify his official corporate role within Forest Ventures.
The group indicated that those interviewed also identified Yii as a former senior manager with OTC.
Mandra Forestry holds two PUPs and is currently operating two additional Forest Management Contract (FMC) logging concessions.
According to the report, in its September 2010 Pre- Qualification Application, Mandra Forestry lists Tea Siu Sing as a shareholder and member of its Board of Directors.
“Seven independently interviewed individuals with knowledge of Mandra and OTC operations, a person named Tea Siu Sing was employed as a senior manager with OTC and is now working as a manager with Mandra Forestry, although those interviewed did not identify Sing as a member of Mandra’s Board of Directors,” the report indicated.
Global Witness said when asked about Sing’s role within Mandra, a representative of the company confirmed that Sing was a member of Mandra’s board. The company denied, however, that Sing had been employed by OTC and stated that he had not been in Liberia during the country’s civil war.
Global Witness also wrote to Forest Ventures requesting information on Yii’s employment history but as of the date of publication of the report it had not received a response from the company.
The group observed that it does not have evidence that either Yii or Sing were directly involved in Liberia’s civil war but both are reported to have served as senior managers with OTC, a company that itself was deeply complicit in financing and providing arms during Liberia’s brutal war.
However, Global Witness is calling on government to investigate the managements of Forest Ventures and Mandra Forestry to determine the extent of the companies’ links to OTC and whether relevant laws are being violated. The group wants government bar individuals and companies that have link with OTC from operating a logging concession in the country.