Saturday, 24 May 2008

BKSDA officials named suspect in Riau forest funds graft case

BKSDA officials named suspect in Riau forest funds graft case

Rizal Harahap , The Jakarta Post , Pekanbaru Sat, 05/24/2008

The Riau prosecutor's office in Pekanbaru has detained two officials from the Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA) in connection with a graft case in a land and forest rehabilitation project in the province.

The two suspects, project manager Maulana Harahap, 54, and project treasurer Toto Hevantyo, 44, allegedly misappropriated Rp 2.2 billion left over from the Rp 8.6 billion Forest Rehabilitation National Movement (Gerhan) funds, office spokesman Darbin Pasaribu said recently.

The funds originally came from the 2003-2004 state budget.
"The project was self-managed, meaning all its tasks, from planning and implementation through to submitting reports, were carried out by the BKSDA," Darbin told The Jakarta Post.

"The report submitted suggests they are responsible."
The Riau prosecutor's office has been investigating the case since Feb. 20 last year.

The project, carried out in 2004, involved a construction project and a forest, water and land destruction prevention program in the Bukit Rimbang and Bukit Baling wildlife preserve on the border between Kuantan Singingi and Kampar regencies.

Thirty-four witnesses familiar with the project have been questioned.
An expert witness who was familiar with the relevant technical and project procedures has also given investigators his legal opinion.

Prosecutors named the two as suspects on May 7.
According to Darbin, they were named as suspects because they could not account for the unspent project funds.

"They should not have spent the remaining funds, but the report stated all the funds had been spent. That's what they failed to explain," Darbin said.
Darbin said the suspects had said the funds had been used to finance six project items, including fertilization, plant spacing measurement and farming equipment procurement.

"However, their statement contradicted that of the field project manager, who testified there had been no fertilization or purchase of farming tools," said Darbin.

When investigators inspected the project's bank account, all the allocated funds had apparently been withdrawn by the suspects.

Darbin said Toto had admitted to having transferred more than Rp 1 billion to his personal bank account.

"We had actually already ascertained the basic evidence. After obtaining the account number, we were more convinced we had to detain them to prevent them from escaping and concealing evidence," he said.

After almost seven hours of questioning, at 4:30 p.m. local time, police took them both to the Pekanbaru penitentiary to await further legal process.
According to Darbin, they could each face a maximum of 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Commission A member of the Riau legislature, Hasyim Aliwa, who commended the strict action from the prosecutor's office, said he believed not only had the two suspects misused the funds, but also former BKSDA officials were likely involved in the scam.

"Everyone, regardless of who they are, must be investigated. Investigators must get to the very root of this case because it involves environmental preservation, which affects the lives of many people," Hasyim said.

Hasyim urged the Riau chief prosecutor to regard the case as an early step in uncovering numerous embezzlements of state budget funds in remote areas.

"Funds allocated by the central government are easier to misuse in remote areas. Prosecutors should bear this in mind," he said.