Friday, 23 April 2010

Officials Accused of Ending Probe in Riau Logging Case

April 22, 2010
Camelia Pasandaran & Fidelis E Satriastanti Jakarta Globe

Officials Accused of Ending Probe in Riau Logging Case

A coalition of activist groups on Thursday reported 12 public officials to the presidential Judicial Mafia Eradication Task Force for suspected involvement in a major illegal logging case in Riau province.

The public officials include one governor, four district heads, two high-ranking police officials, an official from the Ministry of Forestry and four former officials from Riau’s forestry agency.

The coalition said that in December 2008, the Riau Police halted a probe into 13 companies suspected of illegal logging after being advised by “an expert” that the companies had not broken any laws.

The case had been investigated for about two years under Sutjiptadi, who was then head of the Riau Police, the activists said, but was immediately put on hold when it came to the current deputy chief of its criminal investigation division, Hadiatmoko.

Other high-ranking officials accused of involvement in the dropping of the case included Riau Governor Rusli Zaenal and the former Forestry Minister MS Kaban.

“We think the decision to stop the investigation is controversial and suspect that a ‘forestry mafia’ is involved,” said Febri Diansyah, legal coordinator at Indonesia Corruption Watch, which was part of the coalition.

He said the groups had leveled 15 charges against the public officials, including alleged abuse of power in issuing permits and paying bribes to central and local government officials.

Riau Police spokesman Zulkili said he had not yet heard about the allegations and declined to comment.

The head of the mafia eradication task force, Denny Indrayana, said it planned to re-open the illegal logging case.

“We will see whether there was indications of a judicial mafia,” he said.

Denny said many illegal logging cases, in other provinces as well as Riau, had been dropped under suspicious circumstances.

“Vast areas of our forests have been destroyed,” he said. “We need to send a clear message, a message that will make people involved in illegal logging think twice.”

Denny said the task force would comply with an order issued last week by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to investigate the country’s notoriously corrupt forestry sector.

“We will follow up the president’s directives,” he said. “The mafia task force has accepted, and will always accept, input from any party regarding illegal logging and indications of mafia involvement.”

Denny said the mafia eradication task force would work with the Forestry Ministry to investigate the illegal logging claims.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan recently said that up to 3.5 million hectares of land was cleared each year between 1997 and 2002.

The current rate of deforestation is about 700,000 hectares a year, mostly in Papua.

Of the 131 million hectares of forests across the country, only about a third is estimated to be original old-growth forest.

Additional reporting by Budi Otmansyah