If you are looking for EIA UK, it's overhere.

Raw Intelligence: GOCA

Hiding Behind Pledges of Good Intentions: How the Association of Overseas Chinese Serves to Cover Up Forest Crimes in Gabon

Raw Intelligence Series - #5 Gabon Overseas Chinese Association

Some criminals and their enablers hide behind anonymity and secrecy. Others - like Mr. Pierre Lu - choose to hide in plain sight, as shown in EIA’s last installment of the Raw Intelligence series related to the current state of the Gabonese logging sector. Mr. Lu is the Secretary of the Association of Overseas Chinese in Gabon and a leading figure in the Forest Union of the Asian Industry in Gabon (UFIAG). He doesn’t miss an opportunity to publicly defend Chinese logging companies in Gabon, and to assert that these entrepreneurs operate with the best of intentions. Yet behind closed doors, in a series of meetings with EIA’s undercover investigators, Lu openly described the illegal practices these companies employ to make a profit.

In order to bring evidence of forest crimes to the public eye, earlier this year EIA launched the video series “Raw Intelligence.” Through minimally-edited undercover videos, capturing timber sector managers speaking in their own words, EIA demonstrates how the crimes documented in its report Toxic Trade – including money laundering, tax evasion, bribery and other violations – are pervasive, structural and indisputable.

When 450 containers of precious Gabonese hardwood mysteriously disappeared earlier this year in the “Kevazingogate” scandal, the UFIAG quickly made a public statement denouncing generalized negative assertions about the Asian entrepreneurs of the timber industry, and insisted that the few bad apples caught during the investigation into this massive timber theft do not reflect the actions of the majority of Asian entrepreneurs operating in Gabon. Mr. Pierre Lu appeared to be at the forefront of this initiative, as the picture released by the UFIAG indicates.

Article about UFIAG’s members’ letter, showing Mr. Pierre Lu

Article about UFIAG’s members’ letter, showing Mr. Pierre Lu
Source: L’union, Mardi 19 mars 2019, p.5

In 2016, Mr. Lu had actively participated in the voluntary commitment made by twelve Chinese logging companies to responsibly manage their operations through the “Sustainable Forest Management Declaration.” However, just a few days prior to the announcement, EIA undercover investigators met with eight of the executive managers who were part of the initiative, including Mr. Lu who said that the pledge for sustainability was only a “slogan” with no consequences in practice.

The official picture of the commitment made by 12 Chinese companies, showing Mr. Pierre Lu at the center of the festivities.

The official picture of the commitment made by 12 Chinese companies
Source: Gabon Economie, 24 juin 2016.

Lu told EIA investigators that in his experience, the vast majority of the logging companies in Gabon break the law in some way or another.

Mr. Lu said that he is aware that Chinese companies in Gabon evade taxes. For instance, according to Lu, a relatively small company such as Wan Chuan Timber Sarl (WCTS, see EIA Raw Intelligence #2) easily defrauds the Gabonese authorities of over US$1.6 million each year through unpaid tax. Companies artificially inflate the cost of production and reduce the value of sales by keeping two books: an official one for authorities, with inflated cost and reduced sale values, and an unofficial one that keeps track of the real financial flows.

As Mr. Lu explained to EIA undercover investigators: “When it comes to paying taxes, they [logging companies] make their books appear to be having a loss, so they only pay that one percent sales tax, income tax is free, since the profitability is so low. […] Another way to avoid paying taxes is through an offshore company, there is no profit in your local company here, thus you pay no tax.” According to Lu, logging companies also avoid taxes through the creation of multiple smaller local partner firms, in order to spread across several companies the reported amount of timber exported.

Mr. Lu told EIA investigators that corruption occurs throughout all aspects of Gabonese public office, with officials at all levels asking for bribes from logging companies; the logging companies, not wanting to be exposed or penalized for their own illegalities, inevitably choose to pay. As an example, Lu claimed to personally know five or six ministers involved in corruption. He said he plays a particular role in helping Chinese companies solve their problems through bribing officials. Because he knows all of them and speaks French, he is usually involved in the “negotiations” with top officials.

Despite the changes in the Gabonese government following Kevazingogate, and the release of EIA’s report “Toxic Trade,” Mr. Pierre Lu continues in his highly visible role. The pervasiveness of the crimes committed and described in the Raw Intelligence series indicate that Gabon faces significant challenges in cleaning up its forest sector, and in taking action to penalize bad actors such as Mr. Lu and his acolytes.

On a positive note, Gabon has recently undertaken some important reforms in the forest sector; a new results-based cooperation agreement signed between the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) and Gabon provides USD 150 million to Gabon over a 10 year period for the protection of the Gabonese rainforest in the fight against climate change. A cooperation treaty has reportedly been signed between Gabon and China, in support of forest governance and protected areas.

EIA has proposed an initiative in Gabon to support what would be an unprecedented level of transparency. In September 2019, EIA-US’s Executive Director, Alexander von Bismarck visited Gabon to discuss with Ministry officials the importance of transparency and traceability in the timber sector. EIA plans to work with members of civil society and the government to bring real transparency and accountability into the timber sector and to fight the rampant corruption. Gabon’s forests can and should be protected and managed for the wellbeing of its people.

Read every part of the series:
Raw Intelligence: Dejia Group
Raw Intelligence: WCTS
Raw Intelligence: TBNI
Raw Intelligence: Hua Jia
Raw Intelligence: GOCA

View all Blog Posts

Recent Blog Posts

Perú: Juzgado podría anular resolución que benefició a Tamshi SAC tras deforestar sin autorización
10/13/2021
Un juez está evaluando anular una cuestionada resolución del Ministerio de Desarrollo Agrario y Riego del Perú (MIDAGRI) que intentó regularizar la deforestación no autorizada de 2,196.44 hectáreas de bosque natural Amazónico realizada por la empresa Tamshi SAC entre los años 2013 y 2016.
Mukulagate
09/16/2021
While the coronavirus pandemic rages on, ravaging Zambia’s economy and crippling its citizens' lives, new findings by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) show that illegal exploitation and trade in mukula (Pterocarpus tinctorius) persists unabated, benefitting a small number of well-connected and wealthy individuals. A probing undercover investigation into illegal mukula logging and trade sheds light on the apparent theft of more than 10,000 trees and unveils information connecting the Zambia Agency For Persons With Disabilities (ZAPD), the Ministry of Community and Social Services, the Ministry of Tourism and Arts, and the office of the vice president. Nearly two years after EIA’s exposé on the institutional looting of Zambian forests, it appears that the more things have changed with the pandemic, when it comes to mukula, the more they’ve stayed the same.

Recent Reports

How U.S. Imports of Agricultural Commodities Contribute to Deforestation and Why it Matters
10/01/2021
A significant proportion of agricultural commodities produced on illegally deforested land enter global supply chains, exposing major markets such as the U.S. to environmental and human rights abuses, corruption, and organized crime through imports of raw materials and related manufactured goods, while undercutting companies trying to source legally and responsibly.
Tainted Beef
05/27/2021
A new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reveals how beef sold in Colombian supermarkets is fueling illegal deforestation in protected Amazon forests and contributing to financing armed groups.

Recent Press Releases

US Company Pleads Guilty to Importing Illegal Timber from Peru
09/27/2021
A United States timber importer, Global Plywood and Lumber Trading LLC, has pleaded guilty to importing illegal timber from Peru in violation of the US Lacey Act, which prohibits trade of illegal timber products into the country. A six-year investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection, and the Department of Justice, proved that at least 92% of the Global Plywood timber in this shipment had been illegally logged in the Amazon rainforest
Empresa norteamericana se declara culpable de importar madera ilegal del Perú
09/27/2021
Este mes, un importador de madera de los Estados Unidos, Global Plywood and Lumber Trading LLC, se declaró culpable de importar madera ilegal del Perú en violación de la Ley Lacey de los Estados Unidos, que prohíbe el comercio de productos madereros ilegales en dicho país. Una investigación de seis años llevada a cabo por las autoridades del gobierno norteamericano Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection y el Departamento de Justicia, demostró que al menos el 92% de la madera de Global Plywood en este envío había sido talada ilegalmente en la selva amazónica.
Follow us @eiaenvironment on twitter for the latest updates!