Mon, 07 Mar 2005

Police arrest illegal logging financier

Eva C. Komandjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Police have arrested a man suspected of financing illegal logging activities after embarking on a field operation to curb the crime in Papua.

Director of special crimes at the National Police Brig. Gen. Suharto told The Jakarta Post on Sunday that the police arrested the suspect, identified only as Asoy, in Jakarta late on Friday.

"The suspect is on the list of 32 names supplied by the Ministry of Forestry to us," Suharto said.

He said the suspect had already been taken to Sampit in Central Kalimantan, where he had been operating his illicit business.

The police also seized several units of heavy equipment and a barge full of timber in Kalimantan in connection to the illegal logging allegedly financed by Asoy.

Suharto said police investigators were also looking into the possibility of Asoy's involvement in illegal logging in Papua, as investigators suspected the confiscated timber came from Papua.

Shipping documents claimed the timber came from Kalimantan and was heading for Sarawak in Malaysia.

Separately, Minister of Forestry Malam Sambat Kaban welcomed the police action, saying the suspect was facing multiple charges that would make it difficult for him to escape justice.

"He can be charged with violating environmental law, tax evasion, and money laundering," Kaban said as quoted by Antara.

He said that since people involved in illegal logging activities were often interconnected, the capture of one financial backer would invariably lead to the capture of others involved in the criminal syndicates.

"The President has instructed us to get whoever is involved in these crimes and to hand out the harshest possible punishments against them," he said,

He played down possible resistance from certain elements of the military or supposedly "well-connected" people to the drive against illegal logging. "The President has ordered us to carry out shock therapy, meaning that a sacrifice will be acceptable for the good of the country," he said.

Based on ministry data, Indonesia suffers financial losses of some Rp 30 trillion (US$ 3.3 billion) every year due to the illegal removal and smuggling of timber.

Apart from businessmen, the list of 32 alleged timber smugglers released by the ministry also includes officials from local administrations, forestry agencies, and local police and military command posts.

During the operation in Papua that began on Saturday, code named Hutan Lestari (Protect the Forests), police seized four barges loaded with heavy logging machinery and approximately 3,000 cubic meters of valuable Merbau timber.