Report | Feb. 9, 2017

US consumers at risk of funding Hezbollah

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US consumers who are furnishing their homes with luxury-grade timber may be lining the pockets of a family that’s accused of financing Hezbollah. 

Our new investigation, Unsanctioned Trade, reveals that since 2010, US companies have purchased timber worth over $5.5 million from a logging company called Cotrefor.

Evidence indicates that Cotrefor is owned by a conglomerate that’s controlled by members of the Lebanese Tajideen family. These men are named on a US sanctions list for alleged links to Hezbollah, which is listed as a terrorist organisation.

This isn’t the only mark against Cotrefor’s name. The logging giant, which exports more rainforest timber from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) than any other company, also stands accused of logging far beyond legal limits, dodging taxes and subjecting its workers to conditions akin to modern-day slavery.

Threat to world’s second-largest rainforest

These revelations point to a serious failure by US companies to carry out checks on their suppliers and keep illegal timber off the market, as they should do by US law. This is having a devastating impact on the world’s second largest rainforest, threatening the communities and unique wildlife that live in it. 

Each year hundreds of tons of Cotrefor timber flows into US markets. By failing to intercept it, US companies are allowing consumers to unwittingly finance a company that's linked to a terrorist organisation. This same company is also pillaging the natural wealth of one of the world’s poorest countries and destroying a rainforest of critical global significance. - A Global Witness spokesperson, whose identity has been protected for security purposes.

As previous Global Witness exposés have shown, all DRC timber should be considered high risk. A culture of back-door deals, bribes and kickbacks ensures that logging companies can break forest protection laws without fear of punishment, while a small club of politicians and businessmen get rich from selling illegal timber overseas.

Meanwhile public services like roads, hospitals and schools languish in disrepair, and much of the population lives in grinding poverty.

Cotrefor appears a driving force of this looting machine. Officially it presides over a logging zone that is larger than the US state of Delaware, but with little government oversight the company is widely alleged to raze forest far beyond these borders. This is destroying a huge carbon sink, and one of our best weapons in the fight against climate change, at a time of unprecedented global warming.

Cotrefor: US timber traders must break ties

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s vast shadow economy is reliant on companies that export illegal timber, consumers who buy it, and governments that look the other way. Global Witness is calling for US timber traders and retailers to urgently break all ties with Cotrefor and review their supply chains.

Shipping records show how Cotrefor timber has entered the US through the ports of Wilmington, Baltimore and Savannah. Buyers have included East Teak Fine Hardwoods, J. Gibson Mcllvan, Inter Continental Hardwoods and AHC Craig Imports. It is not suggested these buyers knew of Cotrefor's links to proscribed individuals and Hezbollah.

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