By Omar Bah
The Ministry of Justice has confirmed receiving a request from the Swiss government for legal assistance in a case of rosewood looting involving Swiss businessman, Nicolae Bogdan Buzaianu, a one time close business associate of former president Yahya Jammeh.
According to information provided by the Swiss television station RTS, the request was sent to The Gambia by the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG).
“I can confirm to you that the Switzerland Government has sent a request for The Gambia Government to assist with information regarding the rosewood business,” a state counsel at the Attorney General’s Chambers told The Standard yesterday.
In June 2019, TRIAL International filed a criminal denunciation against Buzaianu with the OAG. The organisation accused him of pillage, a war crime under Swiss law.
According to the detailed file submitted to the OAG by TRIAL International, Westwood Company founded by the businessman along with former president Yahya Jammeh was involved in the illegal exploitation and the export of the precious and protected rosewood from the southern Senegalese region of Casamance from 2014 to 2017.
In a little over a decade, some 1.4 million trees were felled in the region, according to a US-based NGO, Environmental Investigation Agency, whose investigation was published on 3 June 2020. At the heart of the business is Buzaianu, a Swiss national of Romanian origin.
Senegal has since 1998 placed a ban on the trade on rosewood in a move to deprive the rebellion of the much-needed resource. Yet the trade continues to flourish through the help of The Gambia, which separates Casamance from the north of Senegal.
According to a Gambian commission of inquiry, Westwood exported at least 15,000 containers of rosewood timber in three years, between 2014 and 2016 which generated US$45.3million in revenues. President Jammeh’s company, Kanilai Family Farms, holding 50 percent shares of Westwood, is believed to have pocketed US$7.8 million as dividends. The government did not benefit from the business as Westwood wasn’t paying tax, said to be in the region of US$5 million.