NGOs accuse TNI, officials in biggest timber heist ever
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
The most egregious case of timber smuggling ever discovered -- valued at more than US$1 billion -- was made public on Thursday by two non-governmental organizations (NGOs), who also accused Indonesian military and government officials of running the racket.
The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Indonesian environmental group Telapak said the case involved the smuggling of 300,000 cubic meters of timber per month from Indonesia (mostly Papua province) to China.
One of the key points that the groups pointed out on Thursday, was that the operation was allegedly supported and managed by high-ranking Indonesian Military (TNI) officers in cahoots with other government officials and law enforcers.
They were reportedly part of a group of international criminal syndicates involved in the massive looting of merbau (Intsia) wood to supply China's increasing demand in the timber processing industry.
Merbau is one of the most valuable timber species in Southeast Asia, but Papuan communities get approximately $10 a cubic meter for chopping them down. They are then sold for around $270 per cubic meter in China where it is used for furniture and flooring.
"Papua has become the main illegal logging hotspot in Indonesia. This massive timber theft of Indonesia's last pristine forests has got to be stopped," M. Yayat Afianto of Telapak stated during a news conference to release the investigative report by the two groups in Jakarta.
The report entitled "The Last Frontier" identified Sorong, Manokwari, Fak Fak, Nabire and Serui regencies as the main illegal logging hotspots, from which the logs are shipped to the Chinese port of Zhangjiagang.
"The smuggling is still going on, even though Indonesia and China have signed an agreement to stop illegal logging. Therefore, we urge both governments to enforce the agreement immediately," said EIA's Julian Newman.
In December 2002, Indonesia and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Forest Law Enforcement and Governance designed to halt the purchase of illegal timber.
The report said a three-year investigation that started in 2002 revealed the involvement of several military personnel, customs officers and forestry officials.
During the two-hour press briefing, the names of several high-ranking military officials accused of being involved in the racket were mentioned.
"The authorities have taken no action whatsoever against these officials, even though we have reported them to the Ministry of Forestry, hoping that they would be tried. One of the officials we reported to the police still runs his logging business openly in Papua, instead of being arrested," Arbi Valentinus of Telapak told The Jakarta Post.
He was referring to a captain in the military police in Sorong who was in March 2004 reported by a television station as running an illegal logging operation and selling the wood to a Malaysian timber company.
Meanwhile, former Sorong Police chief Faisal AN and five of his subordinates are on trial in Jayapura, Papua, for their alleged roles in illegal logging in the province.
The case surfaced after a Panama-flagged vessel laden with 12,000 cubic meters of illegal logs was seized by the water police off Sorong on Jan. 15, 2002.
The report by the environmental investigators said each component of the syndicate played a specifically defined role -- from Jakarta-based bosses securing protection for shipment, Malaysian logging gangs, Singapore-based shippers arranging transport for the logs and Hong Kong-based brokers selling huge quantities of Merbau, to companies on mainland China.
"Aside from expecting the Indonesian and Chinese governments to take action to halt the smuggling, and in light of the fact that it involves several international syndicates, we urge that an international response be formulated," said Sam Lawson, a senior campaigner for EIA.
Minister of Forestry M.S. Ka'ban has said that 43 million hectares of Indonesian forests have been damaged or destroyed over the last several decades due to illegal logging, with the average annual deforestation rate estimated at more than 2.8 million hectares since 1998. (006)