However, investigations revealed that many of those arraigned were either women, rounded up in drinking joints, or Somalis intercepted using uncharted routes in transit to South Africa. There were no illegal operators from the plantations.
Isaac Maluwa, the Northern Region's Police Operations Officer, disclosed that police received reports of illegal immigrants in the plantation.
"Many foreigners are taking part in the harvesting of trees in the plantation. How they get permits, we do not know. They have taken advantage of our lack of patriotism," he said.
Meanwhile, Gertrude Kachinga, Mzuzu's Deputy Commissioner of Police called upon villagers to desist from the tendency of harboring and aiding illegal immigrants.
Doing the math
Timber from Malawi is far cheaper than from other exporting nations in East Africa. In the East African Market, acquiring 25 pieces of timber, each measuring 18 feet long would cost in the range of MK85, 500. In Malawi, however, the same quality and weight is priced at MK35, 000.
Foreign parties seeking to access Viphya would do so through individual loggers who are members of the 300-strong Timber Millers Cooperatives Union (TMCU).
The TMCU comprises seven authorised cooperatives: Chamatete, Lusangazi, Chibwaka, Zikomo, Viphya, Luwawa and Kalungulu. Each cooperative requires a minimum of 10 members, with no maximum membership.
Cooperatives proceed to subdivide the block to members. Cooperatives would then be required to remit revenue to government in exchange for the given block.
Each hectare costs about MK5 million; a minimum sized block averages 20 hectares, while large blocks measure over 100 hectares. The Forestry Department is required to sell blocks on a cash basis.
Harvesting permits are granted to registered cooperative members if they provide the Forestry Office with a certificate from the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Thereafter, a notation in the Forestry Department's records is sufficient for loggers to begin harvesting.
There is no paper work save for word of mouth and a notation in the Forestry Department records - sufficient for a logger to start harvesting.
A license would begin at MK500, 000, increasing depending on the size of the concession and the number of mature trees, among other factors. The five year license includes taxes and payments for seedlings that should be planted to replace trees harvested in the concession.
The number of licenses far outstrips the capacity of the Forestry department to reforest the area. It takes three months to raise a seedling for replanting and a tree matures in 10-12 years.
FAIR's source alleged that many members who lacked the financial capacity to harvest their allocated blocks would sell the blocks to foreigners at cheaper prices. These foreign entities would utilise their own labour, log the concessions, export the timber, and leave the area without replanting, before moving on. Cooperatives would be left with outstanding debt.
The timber business can be costly. An export licence costs MK250,000 in annual fees while transporting 1,200 pieces to Kenya costs about MK800,000 to MK1 million. Malawians with export licenses were used to ferry the timber across borders.