Government has tightened the noose around suspected culprits in the illegal trade of round wood after one of the suspects, Yona Mtanga, whose 23 trucks were impounded early this week at Songwe Border in Karonga en route to China, appeared in the High Court in Lilongwe on Tuesday, at the start of a series of such cases.
State lawyer in the case, Apoche Itimu, asked judge Ivy Kamanga for an adjournment to prepare more evidence for the case.
The case will give an indication whether government has put its act together in securing convictions for the suspects, who undertook the illegal businesses of exporting the round wood to China with impunity despite a ban.
Itimu, who is also the spokesperson of the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, told Weekend Nation that the ministry has several cases concerning suspected illegal exportation of round wood.
“We are handling the cases with the assistance of the Department of Forestry,” said Itimu.
Itimu was appointed by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to handle all cases related to the illegal export of round wood after the previous lawyer failed to turn up during Mtanga’s first appearance in court, when he sued government to release his round wood which had been impounded.
At that time, Mtanga had beaten the justice system after he presented documents which purported that the round wound for which he was being tried had been sourced from Zambia, whose government had given him the clearance for export.
But, in a letter in our possession dated July 22 2015 to Malawi’s principal secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Ben Botolo, the Zambian government has denied ever issuing licences for the export of mukula wood.
“The papers are illegal, not authentic and were not authored by any person with authority to administer forest products, including Mukula,” wrote Barnaby Mulenga, Zambia’s permanent secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection in the letter.
“My office looks forward for further cooperation with your Ministry to arrest the illegal trade in round wood and promote sustainable management of forest reserves,” added Mulenga.
The illegal export of round wood came to light in January after the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources, Mining and Climate Change Management issued a report which revealed that an assortment of Malawian, Chinese and Zambian businesspeople were at the heart of the plunder of Malawi’s natural resources.