A group of Mozambican and Chinese loggers will face trial in the Malawian city of Blantyre on Monday after being arrested with logging equipment in a protected nature reserve in southern Malawi, in what appears to have been an industrial-scale illegal operation.
The gang was picked up on 1 and 2 November in Lengwe National Park, around 5km from the Mozambican border, according to well-placed sources in Malawi. The loggers were caught with up to $2 million of equipment including two bulldozers for clearing roads into the national park from Mozambique’s Tete province.
The leaders of the operation have been named as Mozambican Jose Manuel, and Chinese nationals Ying Lee and Shupei Zen. Zitamar News understands that at least one of the Chinese men is also wanted in Mozambique in connection with ivory smuggling.
A total of 36 arrests were made by Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW). The three bosses, along with 21 Mozambican workers and 12 Malawians, had their first court hearing on Tuesday 8 November in Chikwawa, and have now been sent to Blantyre to face the regional prosecuting officer for southern Malawi.
As well as the two bulldozers, the Malawian authorities confiscated six tractors, one lorry, a Toyota Landcruiser and a Toyota Hilux, two chainsaws, and four motorbikes.
On the morning of 3rd November a delegation from the Mozambique Police force and the Malawi Police force arrived at Lengwe NP headquarters and moved all the equipment to Chikwawa police station. They arrested Mozambican and Chinese nationals who claimed all of the equipment belonged to them except for the chainsaws, which they said they knew nothing about.
The Malawian authorities suspect the operation was taking Mopane hardwood from Lengwe back into Mozambique, from where it would then be transported to the coast and shipped overseas.
Zitamar’s source said it appeared the gang had been at work in Lengwe since March, adding: “This is probably the biggest bust in the history of national parks in Malawi.”
When the accused appear in Blantyre’s High Court on Monday, 14 November, they are likely to face charges including illegal logging, entering Malawi illegally and driving unregistered vehicles.
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