Monday, March 23, 2020

WESTWOOD : Dealing in conflict timber, criminal complaint against Mr. Buzaianu at a Swiss court





Mr. Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu 


Between 2014 and 2017, The Gambia exported nearly 163 million US dollars-worth of rosewood, a rare and precious tree species, to China. During this time, Westwood, a Gambian company allegedly owned by Swiss national Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu and former Gambian President Jammeh, had the exclusive license to export rosewood. The timber it exported was illegally felled in neighboring Casamance where the separatist armed group has been fighting the Senegalese army for decades. TRIAL International filed a criminal complaint with the Swiss Office of the Attorney General against Mr. Buzaianu accusing him of having pillaged conflict timber. 

A TRIAL International Press Release
about the criminal complaint filed against Mr. Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu 


According to the criminal complaint (denonciation penale) filed by TRIAL International, Swiss businessman Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu’s company was involved in the pillaging of precious rosewood from Casamance between 2014 and 2017. During this period, Westwood Company Ltd –which TRIAL International alleges Mr. Buzaianu co-founded with former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh– had a monopoly on the export of rosewood, a precious tropical wood from The Gambia. But with Gambian rosewood nearly depleted since 2011, most of the timber was actually imported from Casamance, a region in southern Senegal that borders The Gambia. 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.’

TRIAL International filed a criminal complaint for pillage against Mr. Buzaianu in Switzerland with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) in June 2019. ‘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.

LOGGING THAT BENEFITS AN ARMED GROUP

Some estimates suggest that Senegal loses the equivalent of 40,000 hectares of forest per year, several dozen hectares of which are lost due to the illegal exploitation of rosewood in Casamance. This selective deforestation has led to a decrease in rainfall and increased desertification in the region. It has also led to conflicts between rebels and communities who can no longer use the forests for sustainable livelihoods.

Illegal logging of precious woods is problematic, as it undermines reforestation efforts in the region. According to the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), "in the village of Koudioube, the restoration of the community forest has helped to overcome conflicts." Illegal logging has stopped, fruits and wildlife are abundant, and local people are once again able to sell forest products. Communities that used to fight each other are now working together.

A large share of the trafficking and logging has been taking place directly in the territory controlled by the MFDC for almost thirty years. ‘Westwood’s illegal activity is all the more serious because it contributed to an illegal timber trade that has historically financed the MFDC. Equally striking is that this trade has had such a negative impact on the lives of local people contributing directly to the deforestation of the region’, said Jennifer Triscone, Legal Advisor at TRIAL International. The armed group exercises de facto control over the precious wood industry by issuing logging authorizations and transport permits, and by ensuring the security of the latter. The rebels also illegally exploit and sell precious hardwood timber to finance their armed struggle: an illegal trade fuelled by demand from the global tropical hardwood market. | TRIAL International is a non-governmental organization fighting impunity for international crimes and supporting victims in their quest for justice.
_________________________________

BACKGROUND INFORMATION SUMMARY OF THE CASE

In June 2019, TRIAL International filed a criminal complaint against Swiss national Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu, a close business associate of former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, for the alleged pillaging of protected, Senegalese rosewood. Between June 2014 and March 2017, Westwood, a Gambian company owned by entities affiliated to Mr. Buzaianu and former President Jammeh, allegedly exported over 315,000 tons of Pterocarpus erinaceus to China (roughly equivalent to USD 163 million). This precious 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.

Yahya Jammeh as an ally, the MFDC was able to monopolize the timber trade in Lower Casamance, using its profits to finance its armed struggle. Westwood benefited generously from this trade, transferring its profits to individuals and companies associated with Former President Jammeh and Mr. Buzaianu. FILING’S STATEMENTS Ê 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.
                                                             
© TRIAL International / Montse Ferrer TRIAL International filed the criminal complaint before the Swiss War Crimes Unit. This is the first case where illicit timber traders are accused of pillaging conflict resources in Switzerland; and if this case succeeds, it would be the first case anywhere to convict someone for the pillaging of timber or any natural resource. It is also a groundbreaking case as it seeks to use the existing international criminal legal framework to punish non-enumerated environmental crimes, a subset of crimes that go mostly unpunished, in part given the lack of applicable legal regimes.
------------------------------------------

References from the sidisanneh.blogspot.com on the subject of Westwood and suspected/possible resource flows:-
https://sidisanneh.blogspot.com/2016/10/how-westwood-company-ltd-and-yaya.html (Part I )
https://sidisanneh.blogspot.com/2016/10/how-westwood-company-ltd-and-yaya_26.html (Part II)
https://sidisanneh.blogspot.com/2020/03/900000000-from-gambian-registered.html
https://sidisanneh.blogspot.com/2020/03/how-ocean-bay-hotel-and-resorts-and-sun.html

                                                                        ###



Sunday, March 22, 2020

How Ocean Bay Hotel and Resorts and Sun Beach Hotel continue to cost SSHFC millions in revenue

Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu
This blog post was first published on the 2rd October, 2018.  Given that Mr. Buzaianu is in the news lately, we find it useful to re-publish this blog post with a reminder that it may take years to bring culprits to book, it is a sure as the sunrise that it will come to pass.
----------------------------------------------

Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu is a naturalized Swiss of Romanian origin who has been described as one of Yaya Jammeh's least-known but highly consequential business partners and a central figure in partnering with the former-dictator to plunder the country's wealth.

He is also owner of Westwood , a company found to be in cahoots with Jammeh in the illegal exploitation of Senegalese redwood timber for export, causing environmental havoc as well as threatening the diplomatic relations between neighbors.

Prior to venturing into The Gambia, the Swiss-Romanian was alleged to have been involved in a 7 million dollar gold-smuggling ring that was unearthed.  A sizeable amount of gold was seized by the Zambian drug squad in 2007.

The late Zambia  President Michael Sata implicated Mr. Buzaianu which led his to threaten to sue the government of Zambia for $100 million which he never carried out.  He, instead, returned to Switzerland before trying out Gambia as a business destination.

Records show that both the Ocean Bay Hotel and Resorts and Sun Beach Hotel were leased to the BP Investment Group FZE (BPI), a company believed to belong to the Swiss-Romania,

Ocean Bay Hotels and Resorts (OBHR) was leased for an initial term of 10 years from 1st December, 2013 and Sun Beach Hotel was leased for 15 years 10 months from 9th August, 2016.

OBHR monthly rental:  The monthly rental for OBHR was 13,000 (thirteen thousand) Euros payable quarterly in advance for the first five years increasing to Euro 14,000 per month for the second five years.  The lease agreement also stipulated that any and all investments made by BPI in the physical structure of the OBHR during the term of the lease shall be deducted from the monthly rent up to a maximum of 6,000 Euros.

Sun Beach Monthly rental: The monthly rental of Sun Beach is the sum of $10,000 from 1st November, 2016 to 31st December, 2021 increasing to $12,000 from 1st January, 2022 to 31st December, 2026 and to $15,000 for the remaining duration.

BPI was to take Sun Beach on an "as is" basis and be responsible for all renovation and remodelling at its own expense and spend not less than 2 million Euros in accordance with its own renovation schedule/plans.  BPI failed to honor this commitment.

In March, 2017 under the new Managing Director, SSHFC decided to review the investments and decided that the consideration was scandalous, extortionately low and detrimental to SSHFC investment returns.

The returns on investments (ROI) for Ocean Bay Hotel and Resorts never reached 1%.  The rage was from 0.8% - 0.9% per annum.  BPI since inception of the OBHR lease 31st March, 2017 were paying a monthly rental of 7,000 Euros which means they were deduction automatically 6,000 Euros for  purported renovations/ remodeling without prior consent of SSHFC.

ROI for Sun Beach was 2.55% annually.  The poor returns on investments together with the fact that BPI was at the time owing SSHFC several months rent arrears nd woefully falling short of meeting its other obligations such as payment of utility bills, led the SSHFC management under Mr. Manjang to terminate the leases.

In August of 2017, the corporation instructed its solicitors to issue notices of termination which was challenged by BPI in the High Court to prevent SSHFC from reentering the hotels.  In May 2018, the case in the High Court was struck due to non-diligent prosecution.

The Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation is prepared and ready to re-enter the hotels, according to sources, but the Commission of Inquiry into the illicit wealth of Yaya Jammeh has placed them under receivership.  The corporation has tried unsuccessfully to discharge their order.  Meanwhile, SSHFC has an offer of 1.2 million Euros annually for the two hotels which they cannot pursue further because of the current status of the hotels.

                                                                      ######

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

How WestWood Company Ltd. and Yaya Jammeh collude to defraud the Gambian people - Part I

First published October 18th, 2016



Nicholae Bogdan Buzaianu,  Gambian Ambassador

















The name Nicholae Bogdan Buzaianu may not ring a bell to many Gambians despite being one of Yaya Jammeh's closest and consequential but one of the most illusive business partners.  He is also one of the most illusive who prefers travelling in and out of Banjul in his private jet to supervise his business interest, expatriate physical transporting business proceeds in contravention of Gambian and, perhaps, international law, according to a source in Banjul.

Mr. Buzaianu is a naturalized Swiss citizen of Romanian origin who was involved in a gold scam worth $ 7 million that was seized by Zambian drug authorities in 2007.  The late Zambian president Michael Sata implicated the Swiss businessman which led him to threaten to sue the government of Zambia and the Zambian press for $100M.  The threat was never carried out.

Returning to Switzerland, Mr. Buzaianu focused his attention on restoring what he saw as a soiled reputation from the gold scandal that was widely publicized in the Zambian press by engaging in environmental causes.  He immediately declared war on plastic bags as an environmental hazard - an effort he said should be replicated in Africa because of his Zambian experience.

Although he never returned to Lusaka, he took his project to The Gambia where he was able to convince the Gambian dictator to put a ban on plastic bags without providing the general population with environmentally-friendly bags as sustainable alternative.   For a more elaborate and dramatic narration of how he got in the environment business, visit his blog post here.

Saving the planet one plastic bag at a time was not the surest way of getting rich.  So Mr. Buzaianu's primary business interest in this slither of a land in West Africa was the limited natural resource endowment that Yaya Jammeh was prepared to illegally supplement Gambia's limited forest cover with a relatively larger supply of timber in neighboring Senegal.

Mr. Buzaianu formed the WestWood Company Ltd. several years ago (precise date unknown) but has been exporting forest products, primarily African mahogany and keno for the past three years, according to shipping records.  Because Jammeh granted WestWood Company monopoly power to export wood products to China, it became a brisk and profitable business which, in turn, accelerated the exploitation of the forest resources, primarily in the Casamance.

A former Senegalese Minister of the Environment raised the alarm at the unsustainable rate of exploitation of southern Senegal's forest cover which he attributed primarily to traffickers operating from Gambian territory.  One million trees have been felled by loggers illegally, according to the former Senegalese Minister who claimed that at that rate Casamance will lose all of its forest cover by 2018.    

Mr. Buzaianu may be a Romanian-born naturalized Swiss national but he became Gambia's Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2014 which should make him a Gambian citizen as well, flying around the world with Gambian diplomatic passport.  According to Breitbart.com, he presented his letters of credence to Abdoullah bin Mohammed bin Butti AI Hamed, Under Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The Swiss businessman is also listed as Consul of The Gambia in Monaco.   Before he fell out with the late President Sata of Zambia, Mr. Buzaianu was also Zambia's Ambassador to the UNESCO suggesting he has a special affinity to diplomatic assignment to go along his African business ventures.  we wonder why.

                                                                               *******

Part II will look at WestWood's operations in the Gambia and how the public treasury is losing money as a result of the monopoly status and other export concessions accorded to WestWood by Jammeh.

Monday, March 9, 2020

$ 900,000,000 from Gambian-registered companies stashed in Panama, Gambians demand explanation - A Re-publication

Exactly three years ago, we published this post on the
Panama Papers and the Gambian companies listed in
them which helped Gambians focus attention on how
international criminal syndicates used weak states, like
our own, to launder money and other criminal activities.
This post was first published on 22nd May, 2016.
------------------------------------------------------------

Add caption











According to the Panama Papers, a number of companies registered in the Gambia have stashed almost $ 1 billion in offshore accounts.

We are studying the details in consultation with tax accountants, financial and legal experts with a view to gaining insight into this massive transfer of financial resources from one of the world's poorest countries.

We wish to draw the attention of our esteemed readers that operating offshore accounts in and of themselves may not necessarily be illegal unless it can be established that the origin or origins of these funds are as a result of illegal activities, such as drug or human trafficking or other forms of international criminal activities.

The Gambia is, of course, not the only country that is shown to have its citizens operating offshore accounts in tax heavens.  Prominent Senegalese businessmen are among those listed as operating accounts offshore.  The difference between them and the Gambian businessmen listed in their forthrightness.

The Senegalese businessmen listed in the Panama Papers were quick to respond to the revelation by explaining the rationale for these accounts which, according to one, was to legally reduce or eliminate further exposure to higher tax liabilities.  To some, this is unethical or unpatriotic.  To others it is a smart business move.  In short, one man's tax dodger is another man's astute businessman.

Amadou Samba, a Gambian businessman, a business partner and a close associate of the Gambian dictator is listed as operating one or several offshore accounts.  The amounts in one or several of these accounts are unknown.  However, the global figure for the country is listed as $ 900,000,000 a figure close to Gambia's estimated GDP of $ 1 billion.

Gambians deserve a response from both Amadou Samba and Yaya Jammeh as initial step in a process that will take the expertise of world class legal, financial and tax professionals to ascertain the facts on behalf of the Gambian People.

When Jammeh seized power, "rampant corruption" was the reason he advanced to justify the illegal coup.  A team of investigators were dispatched to comb the offshore centers in search of funds they believed were derived from the Nigeria Crude allocated to the then government as balance of payment support by the Nigerian government.  Today, the shoe is on the other foot.

Gambians must hear from Amadou Samba and Yaya Jammeh.
-----------------------------------------------

Amendment:  The initial blog post figure read $ 900,000 instead of $ 900,000,000

                                                                   #####

How WestWood Company Ltd. and Yaya Jammeh collude to defraud the Gambian people

Republication of a blog post 
first published October 26th, 2016
-----------------

                                                                                             
Senegalese timber destined for Gambia for re-export to China
The Gambia, the smallest country in continental Africa with only 4,000 hectares of forest, is the second biggest exporter of redwood to China behind Nigeria, according to El Ali Haida a former environment minister in the Senegalese government of Macky Sall.
According to Mr. Haida, almost all of Gambia's redwood exports originated from the southern Casamance region of Senegal where 10,000 hectares or over one million trees illegally felled and smuggled into the Gambia.  It is estimated that The Gambia has earned US $ 238.5 million since 2010.

It was not until the rate of exploitation of the forest products reached unsustainable levels that threatened to turn the lush forest cover of the Casamance into another arid desolate land like northern Senegal that the government decided to take action to disrupt the illegal trade and break up the cartel, Of course, local Senegalese actors had to be accomplishes in the illegal trade to make such a huge operation possible.  In June this year, the Senegalese Armed Forces minister who was accompanied by the Interior and Environment ministers toured the region - the extent of the indiscriminate exploitation of the forest cover by traffickers was "scary and devastating" and, according to him the illegal logging was " destroying the future and the Senegalese economy and that is unacceptable."

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border,  the Gambian leader, who is the principal actor and beneficiary of the redwood export trade reacted by announcing a ban on 'importing' timber  an announcement seen by many as a ploy to quiet down critics of the regime, environmentalists and the Senegalese government.  The illegal logging activities are expected to resume once Jammeh ensures his re-election to a 5th term in December and public attention is redirected elsewhere.

WestWood Company Ltd. which started operations about three years ago is owned by Nicholae Bogdan Buzaianu whom we featured in a blog post that we can find here.  The company's offices are located in a hotel (Ocean Bay Hotel) bought by Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) a government agency that used public funds but offered the Gambian dictator an equity stake in the hotel the size of which still remains a mystery,

The day-to-day operations of WestWood Company Ltd. rests with Buzaianu's son, Dragos Buzaianu who is based in the Gambia while the elder Buzaianu shuttle between his base in Europe and Banjul where he, reportedly visits periodically in a private jet to transport cash out of the country.  Dragos is assisted by Romanian and French nationals in the export of redwood timber illegally logged from Senegal.

WestWood, like many companies of its kind, does all of its transactions in cash and specifically in US dollars. It enjoys concessions offered by the Gambian dictator among which is the sole legal entity allowed to export timber products, mainly to China with Chinese and Gambian intermediaries acting as middlemen. The monopoly status of WestWood, coupled with being in business with Yaya Jammeh affords it the luxury of being highly influential and thus dictating the terms of its business transactions which are unusually at the expense of the treasury and the public interest.

According to Customs records, 10,000 containers of redwood have been exported by WestWood at US $3,000 per container per exporter netted the company $30 million.  In addition to the $ 3,000, Westwood  collects D 2,800 (approx. $ 60.00) per container as custom duty but surrenders only D 1,000 ( approx. $20.00) to the Revenue Authority (GRA), it is uncertain who benefits from the $ 40.00 that is withheld from the public revenue authorities.

With the ban on importation of redwood from Senegal that came into effect last month,  the timber export business has come to a screeching halt because all of the redwood was coming from illegal felling of trees  from Senegal, primarily from the Casamance region.  The ban is generally believed to be a stunt by the Gambian dictator and once he get re-elected and attention is focused elsewhere, he will signal the resumption of the illegal trade to, once again, threaten the region's savanna forest. 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Trans-Gambia Bridge Project design is a legitimate concern of Gambians - Republication

The TransGambia Bridge Project has become current again as a topic of discussion following the recent visit of President Barrow to Senegal where it appears that of the Bridge Project is one of the three Agreements signed.

We have written a great deal about the genesis of the project and about subjects related to it.  The most recent one was the 25th May, 2016 when we expressed concern about the final design of the bridge which, if it's mishandled, will have a lasting impact on the economic, social and environmental fabric of our society. 

We are republishing the blog post by request. 

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Example of a cantilever bridge 
The Gambia River, one of the most navigable and important rivers on the African continent, is the single most important natural resource of one of the world's poorest countries - The Gambia.

The Gambia exists because of the river that it took its name from.  The River Gambia is The Gambia and The Gambia is River Gambia.  It is, therefore, a natural resource that must be protected at all cost and to be preserved for generations yet unborn.  To protect and reserve it is to protect and preserve Gambia's national identity.
Source of the River Gambia
The bridge over River Gambia has always been central to Senegal's, as well as the regional's, interest that will connect northern and southern Senegal, as well as to connect a critical link of the ECOWAS highway system linking Abuja to capitals along the west African corridor.

The original project, under the purview of the OMVG was first mooted in the late 1970s.  The project included a barrage component (Bridge - Barrage Project) to provide irrigation water for rice production, a component that was proven to be environmentally unsustainable, according to a USAID-funded University of Michigan study.  Gambia's interest which centered on the barrage for irrigation fell when it proved an unsustainable proposition.

Senegal managed to keep the bridge project alive for over three decades until fairly recently when the project was reconstituted as a Bridge Project.  It is important, at this stage of the negotiations, for Gambians to familiarize themselves with the history of the project to appreciate the geopolitical importance as well as the implications of the outcome of the negotiations that is taking place in Dakar.

During negotiations, the Gambian Foreign Minister, Mrs. Neneh MacDouall-Gaye, raised the design issue of the bridge which, according to her, obstructs or impedes the navigability of River Gambia. The fact that Gambia is raising fundamental design objections, albeit late in the project cycle, is extremely important an issue that MUST be satisfactorily addressed by both parties and the donor community, including the AfDB.

The late objection should not be an excuse to proceed without satisfactorily addressing the issue because, if indeed the design obstructs navigation of one of Africa's most navigable rivers, it will be a national tragedy of monumental proportion that will be revisited by an successor government to Yaya Jammeh.
                                                               ##########   

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Senegal officially closed its border to the cashew export trade through Gambia - Re-publication

Senegal's Commerce Minister, Alioune Sarr
First published 9th May, 2018 

The Senegalese government of Macky Sall has decided on Tuesday to close its border to the cashew export trade that has been going on for over a decade.

A Senegalese delegation from Dakar headed by the Senegalese Commerce Minister, Alioune Sarr, convened a meeting in Ziguinchor with local authorities, customs officials, transport unionists and stakeholders to discuss the  new government policy.

Henceforth, cashew from the southern Senegalese region of Casamance will not be allowed to be transported to the port facilities in Banjul for export purposes.  Speaking to the officials and stakeholders in the southern Senegal capital of Ziguinchor in Wolof, the Minister assured exporters full government support, including bank financing of their operations, to win their cooperation.

The port of Banjul, despite its less than ideal conditions during the Jammeh era, is still a relatively attractive alternative to the Dakar Port both in terms of distance from source and turnaround time.  The operators, exporters and transporters favor Banjul to Dakar port for these reasons.
Port of Banjul 

As expected, the Senegalese transport union is reportedly opposing the new policy which is seen as interfering in the basic tenets of the ECOWAS Protocol of free movement of goods and people.

Our sources are reporting that the transport union has refused to transport the cashew to Dakar because it is not profitable for them.  They have also refused to transport the cashew crop from the bush if they the destination is Dakar and not Banjul.

Thus the Commerce Minister's suggestion that the commercial banks will provide financial facilities for the operations is to make the new policy profitable for the transporters and exporters, according to sources.  Time is neither on the side of the Senegalese nor on the Gambian governments because the cashew season commences next week.

The Gambian government is yet to make a pronouncement on what clearly is an attempt by Senegal to contravene ECOWAS Protocols on the movement of goods and people across Member State.

This development is one more reason for the Barrow government to move judiciously and with patriotic fervor to put Gambia's interest ahead of personal or partisan interest first.  We are to protect the family jewels from being sold.
                                                               ###