Episode 3: Bleeding Trees - Tracking Illegal Loggers in Namibia

John Grobler’s Namibian holiday led him on an unexpected journey of tailing trucks and loggers to expose the interests behind illegal timber trade, a lucrative business that makes millions for Chinese companies and local elites.

In this episode of Dirty Deeds…

In this episode, Nick Wallis traces OCCRP’s investigation into who’s behind the killing of Namibia’s last protected rosewood trees. We also hear from OCCRP journalist Khadija Sharife on how the tragic destruction of these prized forests fits into the wider exploitation of Africa’s natural resources.

Finally, sustainability expert Dr. Clemens von Doderer analyzes the causes of Namibia’s illegal logging and what needs to be done to put an end to deforestation.

Read the investigations:

Host Nick Wallis talks to…

John Grobler - @JohnGrblr

John is a veteran investigative journalist who collaborated with OCCRP on two investigations into the illegal logging of Namibian rosewood.

“I circle them like a hawk for a while and then I will move closer. I will try and establish the eating and especially the drinking habits of the managers. I gather intelligence.”

Khadija Sharife

Khadija is a senior investigator with OCCRP who worked with John to expose the devastation of the Namibian forests.

“These people go off to specific resources and they create opportunities for those politicians, for those corrupt officials within that country. It’s always the same pattern.”

Dr. Clemens von Doderer

Clemens is a Namibia-based sustainability expert and trained forester.

“In 1990 Namibia had 8.8 million hectares of forest cover. In 2020 this is now down to 6.6. So Namibia has lost a quarter of its forest cover.”

Show Notes

  • [0:00] Introduction
  • [2:33] Khadija explains why she commissioned John’s investigation
  • [5:18] John gives a crash course on Namibia
  • [6:20] Why Chinese demand for rosewood trees is increasing
  • [8:03] Why and how John began investigating rosewood logging
  • [13:38] An explainer on CITES and the loophole that allows illicit trafficking to continue unseen
  • [16:13] How Namibia’s political and legal system fuels illegal logging
  • [18:55] What it’s like to take on a government as a lone journalist
  • [20:25] Can the redwoods be saved?
  • [24:33] Dr Clemens von Doderer explains the causes of illegal logging in Namibia
  • [27:26] How can illegal logging be stopped?

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Nick Wallis: Coming up: the felling of Namibia’s ancient hardwoods, the criminal gangs behind it, and the environmental reporter who tracked them down.

John Grobler: I circle them like a hawk for a while and then I will move closer. I will try and establish the eating and especially the drinking habits of the managers. I gather intelligence.

Dr Clemens von Doderer: 1990, Namibia had 8.8 million hectares of forest cover, and now in 2020 it was down to 6.6. So Namibia has lost a quarter of its forest cover.

Khadija Sharife: Very soon we may be seeing all of the things we love most in our world only on television or in a zoo somewhere.

Nick Wallis: My name is Nick Wallis and this is Dirty Deeds, Tales of Global Crime and Corruption, a podcast from the global journalism network the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, or OCCRP as it’s known.

This episode is about an investigation by John Grobler, who worked with the OCCRP’s Khadija Sharife to highlight the ongoing devastation of Namibia’s rosewood trees. These have become known as the bleeding trees, a reference to the dark red sap produced by the rosewoods which becomes visible once they’ve been cut down.

John’s initial investigation in 2017 was a collaboration between the OCCRP and Oxpeckers, Africa’s first investigative environmental journalism unit. It was called “Felling Namibia’s Ancient Giants.” John returned in 2020 with an OCCRP report called “They Are Finishing the Trees” which speaks for Itself.

John is an extraordinary character with a long and award-winning history of environmental reporting across Africa. Khadija is his perfect foil, pin-sharp and passionate about the wider structural problems which make the looting of Africa’s natural resources a blight on the continent.

To finish this episode, I also speak to the Namibia-based environmental sustainability expert Clemens von Doderer, who has his own perspective on the destruction of Namibia’s forests. But first, let’s hear from John Grobler and Khadija Sharife. John joined me from Namibia and Khadija dialed in from South Africa. I started by asking Khadija why the OCCRP commissioned John’s investigation.

Khadija Sharife: We are always looking for stories that speak to systemic ecological predation. So these types of endangered timber trafficking stories, we did in Gambia and Madagascar and it’s always a similar process. It’s corrupt but often technically legal, and it’s enabled by organized crime and so forth, so when the world thinks of a country like Namibia or The Gambia, it’s usually a distant thought. The mind struggles to recall it because it doesn’t feature a bloody and violent genocide.

There isn’t a warring election process, so people tend to think of it as just fine or peaceable, but in spaces where John lives, you find that systemic predation is fast-tracked. Everything shrinks down. The dominant and governing party called SWAPO, they’ve been in power since the end of colonialism and they perform as a kind of corporate company taking pieces of profit of everything that they can sell.

They are suspended above the society they govern, they legitimate themselves with the specter of colonialism, “We saved you, you owe us.” And they control these societies with militarism and govern by repression, and so under the guise of empowerment, we can see in this story how societies and ecologies are intertwined with each other.

The government allocated ecologically precious land as cash in the bank for loyalists in the form of resettlement farms. This happened in 2005-2006 and decades on we can see the consequences. So when a government like Namibia or The Gambia wants to partner, they bring in a similarly repressive government or a government that has the same tendency towards marginalizing its own society and resolving differences in political factions within the party, not within the society or between different political parties.

So where you find that a government, for example, the Namibia-China partnership, it becomes a very selective democracy. The upper echelons of power negotiate with each other and that means that there can be no democracy, no agency or protection for society, and specifically for the most vulnerable parts of society.

So what John’s story showed us is that where the rare and endangered and scarce trees are slayed for profit, the lowest common denominator, those people that are not seen as fully human or that are not empowered with money or political capital, like the sand people, the indigenous people, they are exploited and abused in the same breath.

When John approached us with the story, we understood that he was one of the only journalists for a number of different reasons that could go into these spaces and capture the truth of that moment.

Nick Wallis: John, for people who don’t know Namibia itself, don’t know where the country is in Africa, don’t know the terrain and the difficulties that you face reporting what’s going on, give us an overview of the geography of Namibia and where these amazing trees can actually be found within the country.

John Grobler: Namibia is located on the southwestern tip of the African continent between Angola and South Africa. It is basically a large country, 725,000 square kilometers, most of which is arid or semi-arid. It’s only the central plateau where there’s possibilities for livestock grazing.

The only area where you have these trees is the part of the African teak forest, the Central African teak forest, where it extends all the way down from Haut-Katanga province of the southern DRC through Angola, Zambia, partly into Zimbabwe as well, but also into the northern regions of Namibia. So it is a really very limited, a very, very valuable resource.

Nick Wallis: And these rosewood trees, which were the focus of your first article in 2017, they’re beautiful and they’re highly durable and they’re highly in demand, aren’t they? And it’s the boom in demand from China that appears to be driving this trade.

John Grobler: Yes, it is all due to the rise in upward mobility in China, where everybody now desires to own hardwood furniture. No cheap pine stuff like the rest of us, they want the redwood, also called hongmu. Now, it has to be noted there are various kinds of rosewoods, some are much much more rare and much more precious than others. Namibia’s redwood, because it’s a slower-growing species tends to be towards the upper end of the most desirable rosewood.

Because it grows so slow, the wood is much, much harder so you can do much more with it. So China’s lifting of 300-400 million people out of poverty has had a knock-on effect all over the world and most visibly seen in the forests up north in Okavango. The Chinese took it all. They will go in and hunt these massive old trees that grow to towering heights of eight, nine meters. They can be spotted from far away and therefore always the first to go.

Nick Wallis: So was it your spotting of these lorries that were loaded with felled hardwood that first got you interested in what was going on up in Caprivi? Because the geography of Namibia is extraordinary and as you said it’s vast, so something must have been going on for those trucks to be seen on their way to port, but you obviously then had to put two and two together and see what the actual story was.

John Grobler: Well I started seeing all these trucks coming into the Walvis Bay port, I was on holiday down the coast with my daughter, but I started following these trucks around because I couldn’t believe the size of these logs that were coming through and I knew that something was off because, first of all, there is not a history or there wasn’t a history of logging at all in this country, because the forestry resources have always been very strictly protected.

But then I discovered that there’s huge mounds of rosewood coming out of Zambia. I started seeing these trucks coming into the port with huge amounts of raw timber. I, of course, had to go and find out where this was coming from. It’s difficult because you were seeing Zambian trucks, you were also seeing Namibian trucks. So at first it told me that this is cross-border stuff.

So I went up to Caprivi to Katima Malilo several times. Then I started following the trucks around and then discovered that there was a quiet operation being set up in what is the Caprivi State Forest. So I traveled up there, spent several weeks following these guys through the bush on occasion, got myself into some scrapes there because if you run into these guys all by yourself in the bush, they fancy their chances in dealing with you.

Nick Wallis: How do you deal with them, John? Do you announce yourself as a journalist or do you just stay there as an observer filming and recording what’s going on? What’s your modus operandi when you’re on your own in a potentially dangerous situation?

John Grobler: I circle them like a hawk for a while, and then I will move closer. I will try and establish the eating and especially the drinking habits of the managers, and then try and be at a bar where they hang out and see who they hang with.

Basically, I gather intelligence for quite a few days, and once I am where I think I now have enough evidence to confront him, then I present myself to them. I say: “Look, I want to speak to your boss, who is the boss of this whole logging operation?” Invariably he’s never there. In this case, it was a guy called Hou Xuecheng who has been on my radar because of my investigations into rhino poaching and elephant poaching in the country. So this was all part of Mr. Hou’s stock and trade.

Nick Wallis: I was very taken by the level of detail that you were able to get from your research on the ground and even more taken by the information that you brought to the director of forestry in Namibia, who in your initial investigation in 2017 doesn’t come across as a very impressive man. Was it your interview with him that made it clear that he didn’t really have a handle on what was going on up in Caprivi?

John Grobler: What I typically do with these officials is I will go in first time, acting wide-eyed, naive, and just asking standard reporter questions. Then I’ll push a little deeper and then I go back for a second round of interviews. I say: “Look, I have these little things I want to clear up.”

And when I go back the second time, I use everything that said to me in the first interview to corner him. But what had happened is that because of the publicity I’d been giving this particular phenomenon, this sudden surge in rosewood coming out of sub-Saharan Africa, it caused problems for Edgar Lungu and his government because then they suddenly realized there’s all this wood streaming out of their country they didn’t know about, and they kind of closed down the trade, impounded the trucks and told everybody that may have paid a fine. And then it sort of opened it up. So they then started moving into Namibia, it’s within the boundaries of Namibia itself so you didn’t have this issue with CITES permits crossing the border of wildlife contraband.

Nick Wallis: Just to explain: CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, is an agreement between governments to protect endangered plants and animals from extinction. It was drafted in 1975 as a result of a massive increase in poaching and unlicensed trade. Now, CITES doesn’t issue its own trade licenses. It classifies endangered species and requires signatory countries to have their own licensing and monitoring systems.

John Grobler: Yes, we saw this very clearly earlier this year when they illegally exported 24 wild caught elephant to two zoos in the United Arab Emirates, clearly in contravention of CITES regulations and intentions.

But CITES has no power to actually stop it. It is not a policing body. It is a regulatory body. It is not empowered to actually prevent any country from breaking CITES regulations.They can issue finger-wagging statements about this, but membership is ultimately voluntary. So the countries and the governments that designate officials to go and serve at the secretariat in Geneva, those officials are paid by their own governments, and they sing the tune that their government intends them to sing.

Khadija Sharife: There’s another big systemic problem with CITES, which is that nobody vets the importer or the exporter listed on the permit. So what the traffickers do is they camouflage themselves in corporate vehicles. They often base these in what they called secrecy jurisdictions or tax havens, and that confers them a lot of secrecy over the beneficial ownership, the activities, the revenue coming in.

What we’ve seen in the past and what we ourselves have done as OCCRP is set up offshore companies and bank accounts from the UAE to Mauritius and Switzerland. And you see that these companies and systems offer you a multilayer box-tick process so that you can game the system. It’s a bank account in one jurisdiction. Something like Panama, Marshall Islands, or Liberia will provide maritime secrecy to give a fake corporate nationality to the vessels involved.

And then even when they are caught there’s transshipment or ship-to-ship transfers, turning off the radar which tracks the vessels, changing the vessels’ names or nationalities, it can all happen within 24 hours. So moving something has never been easier and CITES enables crime because they allow countries, especially corrupt governments, to self-police the activity under the guise of CITES. So that’s a really big problem.

Nick Wallis: One of the things that struck me today was the legal status of the logging that was taking place in Caprivi that John found. There were so many different areas that were covered with so many different loosely-enforced regulations. The Chinese teams were able to go in there on a very flimsy premise and start what seemed to be logging indiscriminately, but no one seemed to know officially whether it was illegal or not. Why is that so important to nail down in your report?

Khadija Sharife: A pattern across the region is where a single dominant political party has ruled since the end of colonialism and they perform as a kind of corporate company using something called black economic empowerment, which is where someone who has political capital can get a stake in the business of any investor.

And that means that they provide a certain level of political protection. And it comes from the Soviet tradition of being an umbrella to shield people from the rain, so they have political umbrellas. And what happens is that there’s a technical legality where under the guise of empowerment, resources are given or there’s a stake in a certain corporate structure given to a local politician who then facilitates this as if it were legal.

So you are running up against an illegitimate political system that veils itself as a legal one, and it’s all done out in the open. And once it leaves the country, that’s where global financial and legal opacity camouflages the activities and confers the privilege. So, for instance, the same rosewood trafficking was happening in Zambia, Namibia, the Congo, at the same time, using the same organized crime cartels.

Eighty percent of Madagascar’s rosewood timber is gone. And that means that all of the endemic species, including the species that people love to adore television like lemurs, they are now on the verge of extinction, if not already extinct. So very soon we may be seeing all of the things we love most in our world only on television or in a zoo somewhere. With the Madagascan rosewood, like Zambian, Congolese and Namibian rosewood, you see it going out on vessels that are often owned or flagged in secrecy jurisdictions with companies that are based in other secrecy jurisdictions to hide the beneficial owners.

And as John mentioned, the primary destination at the end of the supply chain, which appears to involve different companies but it’s usually the same actors camouflaged behind these companies, is China. And in traditional China, hongmu was a status symbol. So it’s something that has long been revered in their society.

Nick Wallis: John, I’m full of admiration for the work that you’ve done in highlighting this and it’s without doubt, as you acknowledge, that your work had an effect in Namibia. They put a moratorium on the harvesting of rosewood in 2018, there’s been a trading ban since August 2020. But just tell me how difficult it is for for someone like you acting on the ground unilaterally, often on your own, to try and go up against a government and organized criminals who are determined to rape your country of its natural resources?

John Grobler: The greatest difficulty is that I’m basically going up against my own government. We have officials abusing their office like they’re some sort of feudal masters to dispense patronage on the ground and then making an example of those that they have so empowered by elevating them within the party ranks.

Nick Wallis: Have your activities put a target on your back?

John Grobler: I am formally banned from the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism at the moment. [laughs] I’m currently under criminal investigation by Gobabis Nampol police for trespassing on a farm. It has become really tough at the moment. I haven’t won the fight yet, but I’m still in the fight, so that’s all that counts.

Khadija Sharife: I think for journalists like John living in Namibia, he’s not going to be appreciated for his contribution during the period of time where he is alive because he has to call into account and call to question very difficult and ugly things.

Nick Wallis: I wonder whether there needs to be some international coordination. If you say that CITES is toothless and that the Namibian government is too corrupt to do anything about this, where is change going to come from or are we just going to see countries like Namibia completely ruined before anyone does anything?

Khadija Sharife: CITES, as a legitimating platform for criminals to take advantage of and to conceal themselves by, is part and parcel of the easy virtue system that has been created. And all of that allows for the actors who are in control of the process to diagnose the problems in ways that do not expose their actual role, how they perform and what they need to do to conceal those activities.

So it all comes down to the same thing that the world is challenging at this moment, from big leaks like the Panama Papers to smaller issues like corruption in Namibia’s timber industry and that means we need automatic information exchange. We need disclosure of beneficial owners.

We need country-by-country reporting because criminals conceal themselves in corporate systems, and corporate companies want to keep those loopholes and contradictions alive so that they can siphon out profit as well. And in almost every country we see, the corrupt politicians are shareholders in the system. As long as we rely on easy virtue systems and we don’t make the law mandatory at a global level, criminals work in a transnational fashion and the law is locked at a national level. So we have to start anticipating how crime works across borders and not just react to it as it occurs after the fact.

Nick Wallis: John, your second big article for OCCRP on the rosewood trees in December 2020 had the depressing title, “They Are Finishing The Trees.” You went back to find out that the situation has got worse. Are we past the point of no return in certain parts of Namibia now?

John Grobler: Well I think the rosewood resource has been fatally damaged in large parts, especially those areas closer to public roads, which were cheap and easy to exploit. This is what I’m trying to do with my reporting.

It is often very grim stuff, but it has a positive effect that elicits a response from Namibian people and often also from outside of the country. There were questions coming from abroad from the U.N. about what was going on with the rosewood here. And one cannot ever give up because this is the only rock we have to live on.

Nick Wallis: I do appreciate the causes are always structural, and the need for change seems to have to come from governments and intergovernmental organizations which have teeth and clout, but there will be many people listening to this who will want to know what they can do on an individual level, people who’ve never visited Namibia before but have read your work and are concerned about the degradation that’s going on in parts of Africa through this illegal timber trade. What can people do on an individual level to try and help your work?

John Grobler: Send me 50 more guys like me, please, 50 at least. I really would like to hand some of this work over because there is so much that needs to be investigated but it’s very difficult to do and it’s very expensive to do.

The best thing they can do is keep supporting people like OCCRP who can keep funding me to keep doing this. The best way to deal with this problem on a global scale is to keep independent investigative journalism alive and going, because remember years ago, 40, 50 years ago, it was still the accepted thing to club seal pups in Canada to death for beautiful white coats for beautiful women. Nobody wants to be seen in one of those things anymore. And this is what we have to achieve with redwood furniture.

Khadija Sharife: That is the solution, and investigative journalism is the purest way to make people conscious of what their responsibility and duty is in our world, which is to protect the world that we live in and make sure that it continues on for the future generations.

Nick Wallis: Khadija Sharife from OCCRP, and joining her for that interview was John Grobler, award-winning environmental journalist from Namibia, who first clocked the scale of what was going on in the north of his country.

My next interview is with Dr. Clemens von Doderer, a Namibia-based sustainability expert who also happens to be a forester by training. Like John, he’s been watching the illegal logging in Namibia and has been working to try to introduce better monitoring of what’s happening and community-based actions to stop it. I started by asking him if the existing laws in Namibia were strong enough.

Dr. Clemens von Doderer: The way it is right now is not strong enough, regrettably. It was drafted quite a long time ago when we didn’t really talk much about climate change and the overuse of natural resources, in this case trees or timber.

Since then, the population has grown tremendously in Namibia from 1.6 million to now 2.6-2.7 million people, and so obviously has the demand for resources increased as well. In 1990 Namibia had 8.8 million hectares of forest cover and now in 2020 it was down to 6.6 million, so Namibia has lost a quarter of its forest cover. So it tells you already just showing you those numbers that the law and the implementation thereof is not good enough.

Nick Wallis: How much of a problem is illegal logging? Is it a tangled mess or is it quite clear what’s going on and how it needs to be solved?

Dr. Clemens von Doderer: It is certainly a tangled mess. On the one hand, if permits are being handed out, they are limited to I think 600 trees per species per area, or something like that. But this is always connected with the need to have an environmental impact assessment, making sure that the trees actually can be taken out of the woods.

And regrettably, often those environmental impact assessments or those environmental clearances are not acquired via the official channels, and then documents are being handed in which have a dubious background, and then the director of forestry has no other way than to say: “Okay, I assume that this is correct,” and then they hand out the permits.

But obviously on top of that, there’s also overexploitation, that those who harvest trees then harvest much more than what is allowed. Another issue which has been reported to me was that empty trucks coming from Angola or coming from Zambia with seemingly legitimate permits from Zambia or from Angola are coming over, crossing the border to Namibia, then actually load timber from Namibia, but then pretend or claim that it is actually Angolan or Zambian wood, and that also means it’s very difficult for the authorities to investigate the origin of the trees and the timber and that makes it very difficult.

Nick Wallis: How much appetite do you detect within the Namibian government for actually dealing with the problem of illegally logging these rosewood trees?

Dr. Clemens von Doderer: I think there is a serious interest there because it really has caught the public eye and the media has been reporting about it quite a lot. At this point in time, officially it’s not legal, they’re not allowed to cut any trees in any case. It’s been sanctioned and something which has been going on now for the past year or so in the background is actually they are busy revising the Forest Act anyways.

And they are addressing some of the key challenges around the legislation as we see it at this point in time, but I also feel that they could go further than what they’re trying to do at this point in time. The legislation back in the days was essentially established to justify the establishment of a directorate of forestry, and it’s very much about the administration.

However, it lacks a clear definition of what a forest is. It lacks other definitions on, for instance, what is clear cutting, what is pruning, and certain basic principles of what forestry is about. And there, I still see shortcomings of the envisaged new legislation around forestry for Namibia.

Nick Wallis: Does the Namibian government have the resources to protect the forests? Because John Grobler and Khadija wrote about Chinese criminal gangs acting indiscriminately and they’ve got money, haven’t they? They’ve got the ability to get into these forests and log them indiscriminately. Does the Namibian government actually have the ability to stop this happening, even if it’s got the will?

Dr. Clemens von Doderer: Regrettably, no. Still, the directorate is underfunded and is under-resourced for all sorts of human resources, infrastructure, vehicles, etc. So it’s very difficult and we’re talking about vast areas they have to cover.

And what makes it even more challenging and I think this is especially from a Western perspective difficult to understand, especially in the north where the forests are, we’re dealing with a concept which is unknown to to the Western world: so-called community forests and communal land. Communal land means it’s essentially owned by the tribe still.

The tribal leaders allocate the land as they see or deem fit. There is also no concept of individual ownership in that part of the world. So also in terms of corruption, in terms of mismanagement, it’s quite easy for criminals to get away because it’s not always quite clear who are the responsible entities managing that particular piece of land. Is it now the traditional authority? Is it the management committee of a community forest? Is it the state? And that makes it very challenging.

Nick Wallis: How much optimism do you have for the future then? You can’t keep losing your rosewood trees, your hardwood trees, your ancient forests as fast as you are, because it won’t be long before they’re all gone. What needs to be done now?

Dr. Clemens von Doderer: As part of our work, we work a lot with the community forests and their management committees. We train them on the basic principles of sustainable forest management. And what we hear a lot is there is a change of attitude also among the local community. They realize that they depend on the forests and if they gone, they’re gone and therefore their livelihoods are then at risk.

We see a change in attitude with the local communities, but we also see a change in attitude with government. The big potential I see is, with vast areas of land available to be reforested, afforested, it also could help international investors, big polluters, to offset their carbon footprint through a carbon credit system or the Cleaner Development Mechanism as it was known in the past.

So there could be an economic incentive to reforest and afforest the land, but in order to achieve that, and this is the one bottleneck I also see at this point in time for Namibia, Namibia has never, ever had since independence a fully-fledged national inventory of its forests. Just like a shop owner would have to know what he has in his shop to sell to his customers, the directorate of forestry also should know what it has in terms of how much forest is left in terms of area, but also what type of species are there, the age classes, etc, etc. That information is not available.

Nick Wallis: Yeah, I suppose if there are responsible traders coming into the area to work to manage the forests as well as use them as a resource, then they could squeeze out the illegal loggers and it could be for the benefit of the communities in the nation and keep the trade going at the same time. But it does bring me to CITES because both John and Khadija didn’t have very many kind words to say about the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Do you think CITES is fit for purpose? Do you think it needs to be strengthened or do you think it needs to be abandoned and more local agreements need to be put in place that are stronger and easier to police?

Dr. Clemens von Doderer: Well, as far as for any law, legislation or regulation, it’s only as good as it is being implemented. I think CITES generally has a place. Looking at it from a European perspective to the days when the United Kingdom was still part of the European Union, it also was a strong lobbyist for the EU timber regulation, which actually provides a very strong barrier for illegally harvested timber to come to Europe.

And so CITES maybe could be improved further along the lines of the EU timber regulation, for instance. But the question is will any kind of legislation stop illegal activities or not? And as long as we see that allegedly the Chinese businessmen are also bribing authorities, then it will always be difficult to apply any kind of legislation, even if it was CITES.

Nick Wallis: Dr. Clemens von Doderer with his perspective on the situation in Namibia, which has lost a quarter of its forests in the last 30 years. Before that I was speaking to Khadija Sharife and John Grobler about the OCCRP piece which inspired this podcast.

It’s called “‘They Are Finishing the Trees’: Chinese Companies and Namibian Elites Make Millions Illegally Logging The Last Rosewoods.” You can find it on the OCCRP website.

We were unable to contact Hou Xuecheng for comment but he was found not guilty on the poaching charges in 2022 and has never been convicted of any crime.

We tried to make contact with CITES to ask them about the points raised in this podcast, but they didn’t respond to any of our emails.

Dirty Deeds: Tales of Global Crime & Corruption was produced by Lindsay Riley with research from Phoebe Adler-Ryan and Riham Moussa at Rethink Audio. The series is a Little Gem production for OCCRP. Don’t forget to like, follow, and subscribe to ensure you get the next episode as soon as it’s published. My name is Nick Wallis. See you next time.

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