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5 November 2010

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Corruption

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Madagascar

Madagascar's president linked to illegal logging

Video released by the Environmental Investigation Agency reveals Chinese rosewood traders have direct links to Madagascar's President Andry Rajoelina, who seized power during a March 2009 military coup.

The undercover investigation found several instances of dealers in China who claim direct dealings with the highest levels of Madagascar's interim government.

Liu Hongyu, a manager at Beijing-based Meheco, a rosewood wholesaler, was captured on camera saying that she deals directly with Rajoelina.

Mr. Lu, owner of an import company in Guangzhou, told investigators he is a friend of Rajoelina and has imported over 1,000 containers of rosewood from Madagascar.

"Sometimes the government does not have the money to pay its workers, this they sell the wood to get money," he said on camera. "Each container the government charges over $45,000, then they also charge duties."

The findings seem to confirm what local sources have been saying for months: the interim government has profited from illegal logging.

The investigation also found rosewood dealers advising customers how to smuggle illegal timber into the United States.

"You can declare customs in English, but you must declare it as 'wooden furniture'", said a saleswoman and shop-owner interviewed by the investigators. She noted that rosewood should not be declared on the customs form.

"We have... never had a problem."

The investigation found that Madagascar rosewood is being turned into expensive furniture, including beds that retail for $650,000-$1,000,000. EIA estimates that 98 percent of rosewood illegally shipped from Madagascar ends up in China.

"In China, Malagasy rosewood beds sell for a million dollars apiece, yet less than 0.1% of the profits remain with local people," said Alexander von Bismarck of EIA, in a statement. "I don’t think the buyers of these beds would sleep well at night if they knew the full story behind their beds."

The investigation confirmed that dealers are aware that the rosewood they traffic and sell is being sourced illegally, contributing to the destruction of Madagascar's rainforests.

Trade in rosewood has been banned since March 2010 when the "transition authority" — the group that seized control of the country in March 2009 — established a moratorium on the logging and trade of precious hardwoods in response to international outcry. Nevertheless recent reports indicate logging continues in Masoala and Makira, rainforest areas recognized as a Global World Heritage Site.

Rosewood logging erupted in the aftermath of the 2009 coup. Tens of thousands of hectares were affected, including some of the island's most biologically diverse national parks: Marojejy, Masoala, and Makira. Illegal logging spurred the rise of a commercial bushmeat trade. Hunters slaughtered rare and gentle lemurs for restaurants. Timber trafficking, which involved armed gangs marauding through national parks, also hurt tourism, a critical source of direct and indirect income for many local communities. Rosewood traders intimidated and, in some cases, attacked those who attempted to stop the plunder.

The news item includes the EIA video "Illegal Logging and Trade of Madagascar's Precious Woods".

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Assessing illegal logging

Chatham House is assessing the scale and effectiveness of the response to illegal logging and the related trade around the world. Full details of this work, including analysis and data, will be available online soon.