Corruption fueling logging disaster in Indonesia

Posted: 28 March 2007

'One of the world's biggest environmental crimes' continues to unfold in Indonesia as efforts by the government to curb massive illegal logging are being severely undermined by a weak and corrupt justice system and the continued demand for cheap wood products, a new investigation as found.

According to a joint report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Telapak corruption and collusion operate at all stages of the justice system, from the police and prosecutors to judges, ensuring that the main culprits behind illegal logging in Indonesia remain at liberty.

Illegal logging
Illegal logging
Illegal logging with chainsaws taking place in Wasur National Park, West Papua, Indonesia. Photo © Jago Wadley/Environmental Investigation Agency/Telapak
The demand for cheap wood products is driving the illegal logging and overwhelming Indonesia's justice system, it says. For example, US customs data reveal that over two shipments of expressly illegal Indonesian logs and sawn timber entered US ports every day in 2006, worth almost US$14 million.

Few convictions

Illegal logging has cost Indonesia around US$4 billion a year since the beginning of the decade, and is responsible for around 2.8 million hectares of forests being lost annually - one of the world's worst deforestation rates. Despite such a huge crime taking place, there have only been a handful of successful prosecutions in the country.

The report reveals how an unprecedented anti-illegal logging operation in Papua Province in March 2005 failed to snare the powerful timber barons and their protectors in the police and military. Although the operation identified 186 suspects, by January 2007 only 13 convictions had been secured and none of these were the ringleaders. Of 18 major cases which made it to trial, all the defendants were cleared by the courts.

The report analyses the case of police officer Marthen Renouw, accused of corruption and money-laundering after payments of over US$100,000 were made to his account by individuals involved in illegal logging. Despite overwhelming evidence Renouw walked free.

M Yayat Afianto of Telapak said: "The government has made some progress in combating illegal logging, but the results in terms of prosecution of the main culprits have been very poor. Without a strong deterrent the problem will get worse again as the timber barons realise they have nothing to fear."

Timber barons

Recent investigations by EIA/Telapak in Indonesia, Malaysia and China reveal that after a dramatic reduction in timber smuggling from Indonesia in 2005, illicit timber is flowing out of the country again in increasing amounts. EIA/Telapak have identified new smuggling routes and methods, suchas concealing stolen timber in shipping containers. The new report also exposes how notorious timber barons, such as Abdul Rasyid from Kalimantan and Ali Jambi from Sumatra have made a fortune from timber theft and have never been seriously investigated.

Seized timber
Seized timber
Seized timber at Lubok Antu near the Malaysian Sarawak border, Indonesia. Photo © Sam Lawson/Environmental Investigation Agency/Telapak
Julian Newman of EIA said: "The story of illegal logging in Indonesia has been one of abject failure by the Indonesian justice system. A massive crime has taken place - the evidence is clear to see in the looted and destroyed forests - and hardly any of the main perpetrators have been held to account."

The investigation also reveals how neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore benefit from forest crimes in Indonesia. Investigations show significant quantities of timber stolen from Indonesia entering Malaysia, including protected ramin wood and merbau from Papua Province. Singapore serves as an important financial and logistical hub for illegal logging, and provides a haven for criminals as it has no extradition treaty with Indonesia.

Full version of the report, 'The Thousand-Headed Snake', available here

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is an independent environmental non-profit group based in London and Washington DC. More information at eia-international.org. Telapak is an independent environmental non-profit group based in Bogor, Indonesia. More information at www.telapak.org

Related links:

High price of illegal logging

SE Asian forests disappearing fast

Timber trade shows corrosive price of corruption