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Gabon recovers 200 containers of rare hardwood, 153 still missing

71 of the missing containers were found on the port premises of Cameroon-registered transport company, SOTRASGAB

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Gabon Hardwood - Authorities search for Chinese nationals
(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 6, 2010 in Libreville, Francois Wu (C) - also known as Wu Jufeng - former chief executive of Leroy Gabon and Pogab, a Gabonese branch of European laminated wood maker Plysorol, is escorted by Gabonese gendarmes as he leaves after negociations with employees of Leroy Gabon and Pogab factory protesting against representatives of Chinese group Guahuo Zhang who claim to be majority stakeholder. - Chinese businessman Francois Wu is "being actively sought" announced the Gabonese prosecutor Olivier N'Zahou on May 13, 2019, in the case of the alleged theft of hundreds of seized containers of kevazingo, a rare wood in which trading is illegal. Customs officers had discovered the collection of rare hardwood worth millions of dollars in February and March 2019, at two Chinese-owned depots at the Owendo timber port on the Libreville peninsula. (Photo by WILS YANICK MANIENGUI / AFP)

 200 containers of protected hardwood have been recovered by Gabon out of a larger haul confiscated by authorities earlier in the year and then, went missing.

The announcement, followed a promise from Gabon’s president to punish those responsible for the theft in April of 353 containers of illegally felled Kevazingo wood – worth almost $250 million – from a cache of 392 containers seized at the port of Owendo in late February and early March.

Gabon’s prosecutor – general, Olivier N’zahou says 71 of the missing containers were found on the port premises of Cameroon-registered transport company, SOTRASGAB and 129 were found on the property of company, Owendo Container Terminal (OCT). 

Two Chinese nationals are being held in relation to the case, which N’zahou says also involved Gabonese authorities. 

“The people detained, and those who are set to be, will be presented before the state prosecutor once the investigation is completed”, N’zahou says, adding that 153 containers still remain unaccounted for. 

SOTRASGAB and OCT did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

There is high demand in Asia for wood from the rare Kevazingo tree, which can take 500 years to grow to its full height of 40 meters (130 feet). While forestry is a major industry for Gabon, the Kevazingo is protected by law.

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Angola awards fuel tender to Total, Trafigura

Angola was hit hard by the 2014 oil price crash, which pushed its economy into recession

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Angola awards fuel tender to Total, Trafigura

Sonangol, Angola’s state-run oil firm says it had awarded contracts for its refined products for the next 12 months to Total and Trafigura. In the arrangement, Total will supply Angola with petrol or gasoline while Trafigura will supply diesel and marine diesel.

This came due to the longest run of fuel shortages that hit Angola in years, which led to the sacking of Sonangol chair, Carlos Saturnino earlier this month.

According to Sonagol, the shortage was blamed on difficulties accessing hard currency as well as unpaid debts owed to the energy company by industrial clients.

Heavily reliant on oil sales for government income, Angola was hit hard by the 2014 oil price crash, which pushed its economy into recession and created foreign currency shortages that crippled business.

In the statement on Tuesday, Sonangol reported that it had issued the tender in February with nine companies bidding for the supply contracts.

The tender result marks a return to Angola for Trafigura, which for many years, enjoyed an effective monopoly on lucrative fuel supply deals with OPEC member Angola.

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Nigeria’s central bank holds benchmark interest rate

This reduction is the first since November 2015.

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Nigeria's central bank holds benchmark interest rate
A photo of the Nigerian Central Bank in Abuja, Nigeria. (Photo by Pius Utomi EKPEI / AFP)

The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele has maintained the interest rate at 13.5 per cent. From the last Monetary Policy Committee(MPC) meeting in March, a 0.5 per cent cut was made in the interest rate.

The decision comes a day after Nigeria’s bureau of statistics reported that economic growth had slowed in the first quarter of 2019, dropping to 2.01% from 2.38% in the previous quarter as the country’s dominant oil sector shrank.

This reduction is the first since November 2015. The rate had been held at 14% since July 2016 to support the naira and curb inflation.

Earlier this month, Emefiele, became the first Nigerian Central Bank governor since the return to democracy in 1999 to be given a second term. The CBN had predicted that growth this year would come in at 2.38 per cent.

Nigeria emerged from its first recession in 25 years in 2017. Higher oil prices and recent debt sales have helped it accrue billions of dollars in foreign reserves, but growth remains fragile with inflation edging up in April to 11.37% from 11.25% a month earlier.

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MTN pays off bulk of $1.5 billion Nigeria fine

MTN, which began operation in Nigeria in 2001, is the country’s largest operator with 53 million subscribers.

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MTN pays off bulk of $1.5 billion Nigeria fine

South African telecoms giant MTN has paid more than three-quarters of a record $1.5 billion dollar fine levelled by Nigeria for failing to disconnect unregistered subscribers, the government said late Tuesday.

Africa’s biggest wireless operator was initially fined $3.9 billion in October 2015, after failing to disconnect 5.1 million subscribers -amid concerns the lines were being used by Boko Haram insurgents.

After series of negotiations, the fine was reduced to $1.5 billion, or 330 billion naira.

“MTN has so far paid 275 billion naira to the federal government,” the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said in a statement.

With more than 80 per cent paid, the agency said MTN has until the end of May to pay the rest.

MTN, which began operation in Nigeria in 2001, is the country’s largest operator with 53 million subscribers.

It generates almost half of its revenue in the oil-rich west African nation, and last week floated on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).

The $6 billion flotations on the Nigerian bourse was part of the agreement to resolve its disputes with the Nigerian authorities over some infractions. 

Last December, MTN agreed to pay a separate $53 million fine after being accused of illegally repatriating $8.13 billion to South Africa.

The decision to impose fines shocked MTN and its foreign investors, with four commercial banks involved in the transfer also sanctioned.

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