Wood export “smoke screen”

Customs scanners detect what are believed to be rhino horn and tusks in container laden with rose wood. Destination – China

Floris Steenkamp

There is no credibility left to the export of unprocessed wood by Chinese businessmen from Namibia to China. Scanners of the Directorate of Customs and Excise detected on Wednesday what officials now believe are rhino horn and ivory that are hidden in container loads of wood that arrived in Walvis Bay from Northern Namibia this week.

The discovery of the rhino horn and ivory originated from two trucks with wood packed in cargo containers that arrived only hours after five flatbed trucks with loads of wood that were intercepted by the authorities at Swakopmund. It is believed also these five trucks were used as decoys, as the loads of wood were legal, judged by official documents from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Some of the trucks were however, not licensed and unroadworthy and fines of several thousand Namibian Dollars were issued by the relevant traffic authorities.
However, only hours after these trucks were intercepted, documents inspected and roadworthy checks carried out, these other two trucks arrived from the Kavango East Region. They were apparently scanned by Customs and irregularities were found that is now being investigated. At the time of going to press Customs, assisted by the Namibian Police at Namport were unpacking the containers to ascertain whether there are smuggled goods inside.
“It looks thus if something is hidden in cavities in the wood. Whether it is cavities created by power tools or whether natural cavities of the wood were used I cannot say now. What we have however, are scanned images which show items hidden in the wood that resemble what we think at this stage are rhino horn and ivory”, explained an official very close to the investigation. On the subject of ivory, the official did not elaborate, which means there is no knowledge at the moment whether these are whole tusks of elephant or whether it would be cut-up tusks.
With regard to the five trucks that were intercepted on Wednesday which are believed to have been the decoys, members of the neighbourhood watch in Omaruru and other law enforcement stakeholders already intercepted the trucks on their way from Kalkfeld, north of Omaruru.
By the time the trucks arrived at Swakopmund, the Namibian Police, traffic authorities and also members of community policing at Swakopmund were already waiting for them.
An inspection was carried out on the documentation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry which stated the wood was bought on an auction in Kavango West and could be exported legally.
Chinese businessmen, senior officials of Government can be linked to the wood, although it is not proven whether there are any illegal connections.
With the paperwork in order, the trucks were inspected and it was found some units are unlicensed and unroadworthy and one unit was overloaded. In one instance the truck’s chassis was cracked and a grave danger on the road.
Traffic fines were issued and the drivers were cautioned that the trucks may not move.
Hours later, the other two trucks arrived and their first point of interception this time is believed to have been customs’ scanning are where the possibility was detected that the wood exports is a platform for the smuggling of protected wildlife products.
Another law enforcement officer spoken to made an urgent appeal to Government to stop all forms of logging, the export of wood from local tree species and even the transit and export of wood from Namibia’s neighbouring countries like Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We in Southern Africa must unite as brothers and sisters against all forms of the exploitation of our natural resources by foreigners. These foreigners pay our local people little money for these natural resources like wood, only to export and sell it for hefty profits overseas. These foreigners bribe our local officials, they disregard our laws and in essence care little for the impact they leave not only on the current generation but for generations to come in SADC”, this person stated. Adding it is time a blanketing moratorium is announced, to carry out proper studies to see if the logging business is sustainable and to re-organise the sector for maximum benefits to Namibians and a fair profit to the foreigner.

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