The governor for Yei River State in South Sudan, Frank Matata, has been suspended for alleged illegal trading in timber.
In a letter dated October 21, Riek Machar, the leader of the South Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO), claims that Mr Matata has been involved in illegal lumbering.
An investigation committee has been formed to look into the allegations after revoking the governor’s immunity.
Mr Matata was recently exposed in a documentary by Kenyan journalist John Allan Namu, where he conceded that he has been dealing in the rare teak wood, whose lumbering is restricted worldwide.
In the documentary The Axe Forgets: The Tree Remembers, Mr Matata was secretly recorded demanding $30,000 as a bribe for himself and some Ugandan security officers in West Nile for the timber, in two containers, to enter and exit Uganda.
Mr Namu had posed as a dealer in high-end furniture interested in hardwood.
“I, Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon, chairman and Commander-in-Chief of SPLM-IO, hereby suspend you from your duties as Governor of Yei River State and an investigation committee to investigate your involvement in the aforesaid programme …Your deputy shall immediately act till the final report of the committee is presented to me,” the letter stated.
The documentary revealed that SPLM-IO and government forces have been fighting over teak wood in Yei River State, and that the rare wood is in demand in India, Thailand and Vietnam. SPLM-IO has been controlling the Yei River region since the civil war broke out in December 2013.
The exposé of the lumbering of teak wood in South Sudan is evidence that the civil war has turned into a fight for natural resources, especially on the SPLM-IO side, which is thin on resources to buy arms and maintain its soldiers.
Furniture made from teak is some of the most expensive in the world due to its elegance and durability. South Sudan has one of the oldest teak forests in Africa. It takes about 80 years for a teak tree to be harvested for wood.
The US anti-corruption watchdog, Enough Project, has been regularly releasing reports showing how the South Sudan political elite benefit from the war through corruption and sending the loot to Kenya or Uganda though banks.