Mozambique: Smuggled Timber Returned to Pemba

Maputo — The Mozambican authorities have recovered 66 containers of logs that were being smuggled to China out of the northern port of Pemba, according to a report carried by the independent television station STV.

This was a fraudulent scheme involving 2,032 cubic metres of timber which had been seized by the authorities. Under Mozambican legislation, unprocessed timber may not be exported.

The logs belonged to the Chinese company Cheufang, which made a first illicit attempt to export the logs last August. Despite this, the Cabo Delgado provincial court appointed Cheufeng as the "bona fide depositary" for the timber until its fate was decided.

All too predictably, Cheufang betrayed this trust, and 66 of the 76 containers of logs were loaded onto a ship which set sail clandestinely from Pemba, heading for China. After the illegal departure of the logs the provincial attorney's office ordered the detention of a Cheufang official.

At a Sunday press conference in Pemba, provincial attorney Octavio Zilo said that, by the time his office became aware of the departure of the ship, it was in international waters, and so Mozambican forces could not seize it.

So the Mozambican authorities made diplomatic contacts with China to ensure that the ship was turned back before it reached any Chinese port. The Chinese cooperated and by the weekend, the 66 containers had been returned to Pemba.

Ten of the 76 containers that had originally been seized are still missing, and Zilo said his office is trying to recover them too. "We are working to ensure that this happens as quickly as possible", he told the reporters.

A second Chinese citizen has been arrested in connection with this operation, he added. Investigations are continuing to discover anybody in Mozambican state bodies who was also involved in the attempted contraband.

Back in August, when the timber was seized, nine Mozambicans were temporarily held - including inspectors of the National Environmental Quality Control Agency (AQUA), and members of the defence and security forces who had been present when the logs were loaded into containers.

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