Timber Mafia

Posted: 19 August 2002

Indonensia is home to 10 per cent of the world's tropical forests but large-scale illegal logging has resulted in swathes of 'protected' forests being cut to feed international wood markets. A high-profile documentary, The Timber Mafia, follows the timber trail in the country where 70 per cent of all logging is thought to be illegal, to its ulitmate destination in the West.

The worldwide timber racket, which churns over $20 billion a year, is a highly organised crime that destroys entire eco-systems and increases global warming. It also deals ruthlessly with anyone standing in its way. In the Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan, kidnapping, bribery and standover tactics are simply ways of doing business.

The Timber Mafia highlights how illegal timber baron, Abdul Rasyid, has used bribery, violence and intimidation to expand his empire - yet he still remains above the law. Reporter, Stephen McDonell, speaks to those who've been attacked, kidnapped and faced death for questioning the activities of the timber mafia.

In January 2000, Investigators from The UK Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Telapak, an environmental NGO in Bogor, Indonesia, Faith Doherty and A. Ruwindrijarto, were beaten and held hostage for three days by staff of Tanjung Lingga, Abdul Rasyid's company.

Late last year an Indonesian journalist responsible for blowing the whistle on three large cargo ships loading illegal timber owned by Tanjung Lingga near the National Park was attacked by a mob of thugs wielding machetes and narrowly escaped with his life. The ships have now been released and the timber sold, after a flawed investigation returned the case to Rasyid's stronghold in Central Kalimantan.

The EIA and Telapak first exposed Abdul Rasyid in 1999 after extensive investigations showed how his company was masterminding the rampant illegal logging of Tanjung Puting National Park in Borneo, one of the last strongholds of the critically endangered orang-utan, Asia's only Great Ape.

Despite ample evidence supplied to the authorities, neither Mr Rasyid or his company have yet been brought to justice for their illegal activities. Abdul Rasyid gained a seat in the MPR, Indonesia's highest legislative body with support from former dictator Suharto's Golkar Party, and appears to be above the law.

The documentary, made by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC) leading current affairs program - Four Corners - was aired in July (2002) on ABC. An on-line debate afterwards was swamped by outraged members of the public wanting to know what could be done to stop the trade in illegal timber and bring Abdul Rasyid to justice.

Currently no country has laws to prevent the import of timber which was illegally sourced. Global demand for cheap wood and an uncontrolled international trade is driving this destruction - and corruption is allowing those responsible to remain free.

To obtain a copy of the video, email: , Tel: + 61 (0)2 9950 4750, Fax: + 61 (0)2 9950 4755. Postal address: c/o Four Corners, ABC-TV, GPO Box 9994, Sydney 2001, Australia. Or email Ashley Misplon at: