Swiss accused of looting by an NGO

Rosewood, illegally cut in Casamance and exported from the Gambia, was one of the sources of wealth for the former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh. With his partner Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu, they would have controlled the traffic from 2014 to 2017. A criminal denunciation was filed in Switzerland by the NGO Trial International.

Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu is a kind of citizen of the world. Businessman of Swiss, Romanian nationality and holder of a Gambian passport supposed to expire in 2019. Diplomacy for business card: former ambassador of The Gambia to the United Arab Emirates, honorary consul of The Gambia in Monaco or even ambassador of the ‘Unesco in Zambia. And business for entry ticket. Nicknamed in Romania “the little genius of energy” for having made a fortune in electricity, Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu set up in The Gambia around 2012 and quickly became the partner of former president Yahya Jammeh.

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The businessman and the autocrat share four Gambian businesses including Westwood, a company that enjoys a monopoly on the export of rosewood obtained from the Office of President Jammeh. This precious species was illegally cut in Casamance, a region in southern Senegal, then exported to China via the port of Banjul in The Gambia, according to a survey by the NGO TRIAL International. She filed a criminal denunciation against Nicolae Bodgan Buzaianu with the public prosecutor of the Swiss Confederation.

Massive export to China

Rosewood, also known as venetian wood, or locally called “keno” is a protected species. It was declared missing in The Gambia in 2011 according to letters issued by the Ministry of Forests. This essence is very popular with Chinese consumers for making furniture. Between 2014 and 2017, China imported 315,000 tonnes of rosewood from The Gambia for nearly $ 163 million.

The origin of the trunks was not a mystery for exporters. “ Mr. Dragos Buzaianu and Mr. Anthony Panetta […] said the majority of timber exported from The Gambia came from Casamance in southern Senegal Writes the Westwood administrator after meeting the two men in 2017.

The first, Dragos Buzaianu, is the nephew of Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu and director of Westwood. The second Anthony Panetta is a French, director of the company. He works with another French national, Gabriel Akram Nakhleh, appointed first secretary. It was this trio that allegedly managed Westwood’s day-to-day business and put pressure on local timber traders to export their production via Westwood.

Looting is a war crime

At the start of the chain, the traffic was supervised by the Mouvement des forces democratiques de Casamance (MFDC). Armed separatists from the MFDC issued operating permits, transport permits and free passage for timber traders.

With Jammeh as an ally and Westwood as a trade facilitator, the MFDC was able to exercise a monopoly on the timber trade in Lower Casamance and using the profits from this trade to finance its armed struggle “It is written in the report of the NGO.

Exploiting natural resources from a conflict zone has a name: it is looting. And in the eyes of international humanitarian law, looting is a war crime “, Montse Ferrer, legal advisor at TRIAL International and investigator, develops.

Legal consequences

If successful, the criminal information filed by TRIAL International against Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu could serve as an example. “ Despite numerous cases of looting, both proven and documented, not a single conviction has been pronounced since the end of the Second World War “Laments Montse Ferrer.

It is now up to the prosecutor to decide whether to open a judicial investigation. Via his Swiss lawyer, contacted by the Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu rejects all of these accusations.

In September 2019, the Gambian government accepted the recommendations of a Commission to Investigate Economic Crimes Committed Under Yahya Jammeh. Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu and his nephew Dragos Buzaianu have been declared persona non grata and owe the state $ 45 million.

Timber traffic continues

Despite the fall of dictator Yahya Jammeh and the coming to power of new President Adama Barrow in January 2017, timber traffic continues. And He’s doing well, according to a BBC survey released in early March. Since the establishment of a new administration, 300,000 tonnes of rosewood have been exported to China, as much as under Yahya Jammeh.

At a Senegalese-Gambian presidential council on March 12, 2020, Senegalese President Macky Sall called for better collaboration between the two countries to combat trafficking. Wishes already formulated in the past.

The illegal traffic in wood is decimating the forest, impoverishing biodiversity and endangering the living conditions of our populations. It is a major disaster that we cannot allow to continue. I firmly say to the wood cutters, the traffickers and their accomplices that we will give them no respite. We will continue to mobilize all the means necessary to put an end to this harmful practice, including by increasing the penalties provided for this purpose.

To know more :

How Yahya Jammeh Stole His Country, OCCRP survey, international consortium of investigative journalists

The little Romanian energy genius , portrait of Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu by the OCCRP

The bleeding trees, BBC documentary (45m)

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