The office of Sierra Leone’s vice president has been implicated in corrupt logging deals to further strip the nation’s gravely endangered forests.
Later the two men, Alex Mansaray and Momoh Konte, sought and accepted cash payments from the undercover reporters, which they claimed would help secure the vice president’s support for a timber export business that the reporters wished to establish.
Al Jazeera’s report also reveals illegal felling of rare hard wood in several parts of the country.
In a number of meetings with illegal loggers, award-winning Sierra Leonean journalist Sorious Samura posed as a businessman interested in illegal timber exporting. Despite laws prohibiting felling of trees without license, he found illicit logging taking place in all the forest areas he visited.
He also met local officials willing to supply him with illegal wood. In one instance a local chief offered to sell him several tons of illegally cut wood and also to introduce Samura to high level contacts within Sierra Leone’s government to help him breach the ban on timber exports.
The EU has identified logging as the leading cause of environmental degradation in Sierra Leone.
According to Sierra Leone’s Forestry Ministry, unless immediate action is taken against logging, all of the country’s forests – as well as the many endangered animal and plant species they support – could disappear by 2018.
Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, has said there should be an end to logging and the country’s government has officially outlawed the practice.
Vice president Sumana later admitted to Al Jazeera that he knew the men who had accepted cash for logging, but said their claims to be his advisors were false and that he hadn’t received any money solicited by them on his behalf.
Of one attempt by Alex Monsaray to extract $50,000 from the undercover team, vice president Sumana said, “Alex was acting solely on his own accord without any prior discussion with me”.
His statement did not explain how Mansaray and Konte came to be using his office to secure bribes in the first place.
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