Global Witness and Sherpa, along with Greenpeace France, Amis de la Terre, and a prominent Liberian activist, have lodged a complaint before the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Nantes against Dalhoff, Larsen and Horneman (DLH), one of the world's leading international timber and wood products wholesalers. The groups allege that during the civil war in Liberia from 2000-2003, DLH bought timber from Liberian companies that provided support to Charles Taylor's brutal regime.
According to the claimants, by importing timber from forest concessions operated by unscrupulous and corrupt Liberian companies, the French arm of DLH is guilty of ‘recel' - the handling of and profiting from goods obtained illegally, punishable under French criminal law. It is claimed that DLH purchased timber acquired through corrupt means, from logging concessions operating illegally and in an environmentally destructive manner.
"DLH's suppliers operated throughout the civil war in Liberia with impunity, stripping the country of its natural resource wealth. DLH knew where the timber was coming from, and who was benefiting from the sales, and yet it carried on regardless," said Patrick Alley, Director of Global Witness. "In recent years DLH has portrayed itself as a responsible corporate citizen, but it has never made any efforts to repatriate the profits it made from illegal timber supplies from Liberia, one of the world's poorest countries, or even apologised for its actions there."
The complaint alleges that DLH France traded in wood originating from Liberian timber companies that failed to comply with Liberian law and/or did not have a legal right to operate. The complaint will rely on strong evidence of its suppliers' involvement in corruption, tax evasion, environmental degradation, UN arms sanctions violations and gross human rights abuses.
Revenue from forestry was a major source of funding for President Charles Taylor's illicit off-budget activities during the conflict. Timber sales enabled Taylor to procure arms in breach of UN sanctions, to wage a campaign of violence, which saw over 250,000 people killed and almost 1 million displaced. The warring parties committed atrocious abuses and the conflict caused serious economic and environmental damage. Today, Liberia remains one of the world's poorest countries; the economy was left in ruins and the security situation still volatile. Taylor is now standing trial for war crimes at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Campaigners warned DLH of the links between its business and funding for the conflict as early as 2001. However, instead of ceasing its trade, the company accepted timber from Liberian vendors on which identifying mark were absent. This was contrary to standard industry practice, concealed the origin of the timber and prevented any public scrutiny of its Liberian purchasing and importation practices. It was not until the United Nations Security Council timber embargo came into force in July 2003 that DLH ceased its Liberian imports. A timber embargo was first recommended by the UN Panel of Experts in 2001.
"Despite repeated warnings from campaign groups, DLH failed to halt its bloody trade, only acting when UN timber sanctions forced its hand. Considering the vast amount of evidence showing the link between logging and the conflict, French authorities should launch an investigation into the activities of DLH in Liberia," said William Bourdon of Sherpa.
Gregoire Lejonc, of Greenpeace added "the illegal wood trade contributes to the plunder and destruction of the world's remaining natural forests. The EU is still importing large quantities of illegal wood with complete impunity. It is high time the judiciary took this into consideration and European states need to implement legislation in order to stop this scandal.
Global Witness: Andie Lambe (in Paris) tel: +44 (0) 7809 616 545 e: firstname.lastname@example.org
Global Witness: Amy Barry (in London) tel: +44 (0)7980 664397 e:email@example.com
Sherpa: Maud Perdriel-Vaissière : tel: + 33 (0) 6 83 87 97 34 e: firstname.lastname@example.org
Greenpeace: Jerome Frignet : tel : +33 (0) 6 79 93 15 30 email@example.com or Gregoire Lejonc : tel +33 (0) 6 26 79 62 32
Notes for Editors:
- The launch will take place at 14.30h, at the Best Western Premier Opera Diamond, 4, rue de la Pépinière, 75008 Paris
- DLH France and DLH-Nordisk make up the hardwood division of DLH A/S (collectively referred to as DLH). DLH is a Danish group active in the timber market since 1908. DLH consists of a number of associated companies organised into three producing divisions: Hardwood, Timber & Board, and Building Materials. The Hardwood Division, which is the focus of the Complaint, is operated by DLH Nordisk A/S and has a number of offices worldwide including in France. Until early 2007, and for the period relevant for the Complaint, DLH Nordisk A/S operated in France through two companies: Indubois and Nordisk Bois. http://www.dlh-group.com