At least three sawmills in the area of Brčko and Pelagićevo have been leased by Chinese citizens and they cut lumber and pack it in containers for further export, that is, to send it to the home country.
Visiting this area, the CAPITAL portal team was convinced that wood is processed in large quantities in these sawmills and exported from BiH, but that each of them has its own policy and a different way of doing business.
In the first sawmill, at the western entrance to Brčko from the direction of Lončar in Plazulje, in the “Elan” sawmill, we found two Chinese citizens and one local worker. We learned from the locals that they rented a sawmill almost a year ago and that they bring logs and cut wood there. According to the workers, the finished semi-finished products are exported first to Serbia, and then “further”.
They weren’t overly talkative, and what they said didn’t fit in at all with what we were seeing. They especially turned the story aside when we told them that we were journalists and that we were working on researching the operation of sawmills in this area, and where the lumber they cut is exported.
They say one thing, but do another
One of the two Chinese citizens we found, most likely the employer or his representative who leased the sawmill and runs the business, knew some Serbian and insisted that he was a translator.
Another, who said he came from China to work there, knew English better than him, but not Serbian.
On the door of the office in front of the sawmill, there are decorations with Chinese symbols on the occasion of the New Year holidays that are celebrated during February. The workers persistently claimed that the company they work for is from Serbia and that their headquarters is in Inđija, but they did not want to say who the owner is and what the company’s name is.
“Our manager is not here, he is in Serbia, that’s where our company is headquartered. He will soon be travelling to America on business, I don’t know when he will return. I think you can find much bigger Chinese sawmills and see how they work. There are two other sawmills in operation and there the Chinese work for themselves. In Pelagićevo and Orašje. We are only workers here”, said Kimi.
In the sawmill in Čović Polje, on the way from Lončar to Orašje, its owner Cvijetin Popović told us that he works for the Chinese, who bring him logs from which he cuts lumber. Every time he fills the container, Chinese employers send trucks and take away the lumber.
“I’m the owner of a sawmill and we cut lumber for a client from China. We are currently cutting ash logs, making lumber and some parquet elements. They export it to China by packing the sawn timber in containers, driving it by truck to Rijeka in Croatia, and then by boat to China. They buy wood from private owners from the surrounding area, in our area, but also as far as Derventa, Srbac, Prijedor, and Brčko. There is no limited quantity, we do as much as we can, and we pack and send each time we cut 25 cubic meters. I don’t know exactly how much we have cut for them so far. We have been working together since May last year. We cut a board and some elements for the parquet, for example. We don’t make logs anymore since the ban came into effect”, says Popović.
He says that there was a lot of cheating of feller goods to Chinese buyers, especially when it comes to logs that the Chinese previously exported unprocessed from Bosnia and Herzegovina by decree.
“There was a lot of that. That’s why they decided to cut with us and that it pays them more than to drive fake goods to China”, says Popović.
They buy from everyone and deliver to China
Locals around Brčko and Pelagići with whom we talked say that the Chinese are known as good payers, especially if they are offered a large quantity of freshly cut logs.
In the third sawmill at the entrance to Pelagićevo, in the facilities of the former company “Yursik”, we had the best luck, because they didn’t hide at all that it was a Chinese company that buys wood from everyone who is interested in selling it, pays well, cuts it and then drives it to China. We barely understood each other, because they only knew a few words of Serbian, and they didn’t know English at all. They didn’t let us go further into the sawmill than the entrance and standing on the main yard.
“We work with everyone, we buy from all over Bosnia and we drive to China. The boss is not here, he is in China. We don’t work today, we do on other days. Now you can’t go any further or film, because there is no boss”, one of the two workers we found there told us.
The Brčko government is empty, the forestry inspector removed from his job
We also tried to get statements about the Chinese sawmills in the Brčko area from the District Government. However, we did not find anyone who would give us a statement, and we learned that the employees of the institutions there are not at work very often and that it is very difficult to find them at the workplace. Also, on several consecutive calls, we did not even manage to get a statement from the Brčko inspection.
Ljiljana Zenunović, the head of the forestry and water management subdivision of the Government of Brčko District of BiH, with whom we had previously heard and talked to agree on a statement, did not answer the phone that day or respond to the message we sent her to remind her.
A few days earlier, while we were arranging the visit and the statement, we learned from her that Brčko does not have a forest farm because the Brčko Forestry has been in liquidation since 2006 and that the forestry inspector has been removed from his job. She didn’t want to tell us why and until when, but by searching the internet we saw that forestry inspector Duško Đurić was arrested four years ago because he “asked for and received money not to stop the felling and transport of wood assortments and not to take other measures for which he was authorized as a competent inspector in the District”.
As the Brčko Prosecutor’s Office announced at the time, Đurić is accused of demanding and taking 700 euros and then 500 marks from people who cut wood without the necessary permits and procedures. He was arrested as part of the “Lumberjack” campaign and was soon indicted for the criminal offence of receiving gifts and other forms of benefits.
Zenunović explained to us that Chinese lessees do not approach them for permits at all.
“They do not turn to us at all to give us any approval. We do not have industrial logging, we only do private forests and supply the population with firewood. The department issues permits for felling in private forests. District forests are managed by us, and private forests by the owners. There are about 3,000 hectares of state forests and we only do sanitary logging for the supply of natural persons”, she said in a telephone conversation.
The director of “Luka” Brčko Perica Josić claims that the Chinese no longer bring logs to them, as was the case before.