The name Nicholae Bogdan Buzaianu may not ring a bell to many Gambians despite being one of Yaya Jammeh’s closest and consequential but one of the most illusive business partners. He is also one of the most illusive who prefers travelling in and out of Banjul in his private jet to supervise his business interest, expatriate physical transporting business proceeds in contravention of Gambian and, perhaps, international law, according to a source in Banjul.
Mr. Buzaianu is a naturalized Swiss citizen of Romanian origin who was involved in a gold scam worth $ 7 million that was seized by Zambian drug authorities in 2007. The late Zambian president Michael Sata implicated the Swiss businessman which led him to threaten to sue the government of Zambia and the Zambian press for $100M. The threat was never carried out.
Returning to Switzerland, Mr. Buzaianu focused his attention on restoring what he saw as a soiled reputation from the gold scandal that was widely publicized in the Zambian press by engaging in environmental causes. He immediately declared war on plastic bags as an environmental hazard – an effort he said should be replicated in Africa because of his Zambian experience.
Although he never returned to Lusaka, he took his project to The Gambia where he was able to convince the Gambian dictator to put a ban on plastic bags without providing the general population with environmentally-friendly bags as sustainable alternative. For a more elaborate and dramatic narration of how he got in the environment business, visit his blog post here.
Saving the planet one plastic bag at a time was not the surest way of getting rich. So Mr. Buzaianu’s primary business interest in this slither of a land in West Africa was the limited natural resource endowment that Yaya Jammeh was prepared to illegally supplement Gambia’s limited forest cover with a relatively larger supply of timber in neighboring Senegal.
Mr. Buzaianu formed the WestWood Company Ltd. several years ago (precise date unknown) but has been exporting forest products, primarily African mahogany and keno for the past three years, according to shipping records. Because Jammeh granted WestWood Company monopoly power to export wood products to China, it became a brisk and profitable business which, in turn, accelerated the exploitation of the forest resources, primarily in the Casamance.
A former Senegalese Minister of the Environment raised the alarm at the unsustainable rate of exploitation of southern Senegal’s forest cover which he attributed primarily to traffickers operating from Gambian territory. One million trees have been felled by loggers illegally, according to the former Senegalese Minister who claimed that at that rate Casamance will lose all of its forest cover by 2018.
Mr. Buzaianu may be a Romanian-born naturalized Swiss national but he became Gambia’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2014 which should make him a Gambian citizen as well, flying around the world with Gambian diplomatic passport. According to Breitbart.com, he presented his letters of credence to Abdoullah bin Mohammed bin Butti AI Hamed, Under Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Swiss businessman is also listed as Consul of The Gambia in Monaco. Before he fell out with the late President Sata of Zambia, Mr. Buzaianu was also Zambia’s Ambassador to the UNESCO suggesting he has a special affinity to diplomatic assignment to go along his African business ventures. we wonder why.
Part II will look at WestWood’s operations in the Gambia and how the public treasury is losing money as a result of the monopoly status and other export concessions accorded to WestWood by Jammeh.