Gabon: Jean Ping cited in the scandal of « toxic wood »

The name of Jean Ping, influential Gabonese politician, has returned several times in the report of the NGO EIA.

Jean Ping’s presidential campaign in 2016, would it have been financed by a Chinese network active in the illegal timber trade? This is revealed by the British NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in a 70-page document that looks back on the ramifications of the Dejia group, the epicenter of the Middle Kingdom in the timber industry in the Basin. Congo, the second largest tropical forest in the world after the Amazon.

At the end of its four-year investigation, EIA estimates that Xu Gong De’s group, a Chinese tycoon who has spent decades in the region, controls 1.5 million hectares of tropical forest between Congo and Gabon.

The Chinese businessman was lured from China to Africa in the 1980s by his close relative, Mr. Jean Ping, who at the time was the chief of staff of Omar Bongo, president of Gabon. 1967 until his death in 2009. Under the protection of his great-uncle, Mr. Xu set up a flourishing network of food stores and a food import company before investing in the food industry. wood.

With its economic success and high-level political relations, it quickly became a central figure in the timber trade between Africa and China. In the early 2000s, Mr. Xu was already considered one of the most influential Chinese expatriates in the region. At the expense, it must be said, of the preservation of the forest.

Irregularities and bribes

Several irregularities were noted by the investigators in the processes of the Chinese company. Thus, the process of allocating in 2016 the Lebama forest concession (104 000 hectares) in Congo was manipulated in favor of the powerful Chinese group. The system of corruption enjoyed by the Dejia Group in the case of Lebama was revealed during the judgment of one of the administrative officials who participated in the misappropriation process. « The court ruling against the Group has so far not been brought to the attention of the public and its local subsidiary has, to our knowledge, suffered no consequences, » the report is surprised.

EIA’s thorough investigation shows that in the Republic of Congo, the Dejia Group, through its subsidiary SICOFOR, has been operating for almost 12 years without an approved land-use plan. According to EIA estimates, the company has exploited more than one million cubic meters sold worldwide, without relying on the most essential forestry tool, the development and implementation of which is essential. elsewhere in the heart of the Congolese legal framework relating to the exploitation of national forests

Overexploitation seems to be the hallmark of the Chinese group. The investigators note that a Congolese subsidiary of the Group alone has overexploited 46 different species, approximately 85,000 cubic meters; which would equate to more than 15,000 trees.

The Chinese group has exported over 100,000 logs from the Republic of Congo, worth more than $ 80 million, beyond its log export quota between 2013 and 2016.

And as if that was not enough, Dejia is also illustrated in the tax offenses, having escaped the payment, « at least, from 3 to 6.7 million dollars a year in respect of the corporate tax in Gabon and in the Republic of Congo, between 2013 and 2016, thanks to maneuvers involving the Group’s Hong Kong-based offshore subsidiaries « . Corruption of state agents is one of the means used. « Dejia executives have explained in detail to EIA investigators how members of the Group regularly pay bribes to Gabonese and Congolese ministers for managing forest concessions and preventing their crimes from being punished, » he said. reads in the report.

In just a few years, China has become the largest outlet for timber in the region, accounting for 46% of the value of exports (in 2016).

« Asian entrepreneurs, including Malaysian, Singaporean and Chinese (from Hong Kong and mainland), have acquired vast expanses of tropical forests in the Congo Basin, created new companies or salvaged old ones. In 2018 alone, Asian companies, mainly from mainland China, reportedly controlled more than 2.5 million hectares of logging concessions in Cameroon, Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo. « Reads the report.

Uncle and nephew

As for the link between this company to illegal practices and Jean Ping, it seems clear in the conclusions of the report: « The network of sponsors of the Dejia Group includes in particular one of the most influential diplomats of Africa, Mr. Jean Ping, former Chairman of the African Union Commission and former President of the United Nations General Assembly. In exchange for his political support and his many relations in China and Africa, Mr. Xu, who is none other than Mr. Ping’s nephew, would have been the main financier of Mr. Ping’s 2016 presidential campaign at Gabon, as Group officials have explained to EIA investigators « .

In the Republic of Congo, the Dejia Group found a powerful ally with Henri Djombo, one of the oldest ministers in Africa (including 19 years as Minister of Forest Economy of the Republic of Congo). One of the Dejia Group’s top officials in the Republic of Congo told EIA investigators that a cash-filled bag was frequently handed over to the minister in return for his services.

The Dejia Group includes several affiliates involved in the harvesting, transportation, processing and export of timber, including Sino Congo Forest (SICOFOR) and Congo Dejia Wood Industry (CDWI) in the Republic of Congo, and the Sawmill Company Moanda (SSMO) and the Société des Bois de Mounana (SBM) in Gabon. « The rapid development of the Group is based on the violation of national laws on exploitation, » says the report.

China is one of the largest importers, consumers and exporters of wood products in the world. It has become the main export destination for Congo Basin wood-rich countries. Log exports from the Congo Basin to China increased by 60% from $ 652 million in 2009 to $ 1.041 billion in 2017; which makes wood the most exported product of the region after oil.

If logs, planks and veneers are shipped from Pointe Noire (Republic of the Congo) and Owendo (Gabon) to the main ports of China, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain and the United States, the money borrows routes well different. The Group’s economic success results in particular from the artificial and systematic transfer of profits made in the Congo Basin to Hong Kong.

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