Saturday, 2 May 2009

Walhi Moves to Reopen Logging Cases Against 2 Suspected Offenders in Riau

May 1, 2009 The Jakarta Globe

Fidelis E. Satriastanti

An environmental watchdog announced on Friday that it would file a lawsuit against two companies whose illegal logging cases were dropped by Riau Police late last year.

“We are very optimistic that the court will accept our complaint because both the evidence and the legal analysis are both very strong,” said Ali Husain Nasution, legal counselor for the Riau branch of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).

“As long as the judge can conduct a fair trial, we are very optimistic,” he said.

He identified the two companies as PT Madukoro and PT Bina Duta Laksana and said that Walhi would report each to the district courts in Pangkalan Kerinci and Tembilahan respectively.

In December 2008, the Riau Police halted their investigation into 13 of 14 companies suspected of illegal logging, include Madukoro and Bina Duta, after being advised by an expert that the companies had not broken any laws.

Ali Husain, however, said that evidence still had been strong enough for the cases to go to court, and he questioned the wisdom of stopping investigations based on the assertions of a single expert witness.

“The investigations had gone through many legal consultations and even the regional police head was very cooperative,” he said. “All evidence has been checked, starting from the statements from NGOs, locals, expert witness, all of which raises questions as to why the police halted and then stopped the investigations.”

Bambang Hero Saharjo, a forestry professor at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture who testified against the companies in the case, questioned the expert who testified in favor, saying the latter did not take the time to fully investigate the evidence.

“We were needed to provide evidence from field tests and laboratory tests,” he said, but the tests could not be conducted in the short amount of time in which testimony was given, as doing so required complex analysis.

“And to have an expert witness in a court, it is necessary to check an expert’s scientific background and experience in giving courtroom testimony,” he said. “We also need to provide evidence of credentials, but I have not seen any credentials from the other expert.”

Ali Husain said Bambang’s testimony had been submitted but never received consideration from prosecutors.

He also said that further investigation wouldn’t be necessary before another trial opened.

“We won’t need to present new evidence in this trial because we have already enough, including statements from experts,” he said.

He said that Walhi had chosen to proceed with only two cases for the time being due to limited resources.