Sat, 22 Feb 2003

Malaysian tycoon arrested on illegal logging charges

Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post, Jayapura, Papua

Police in Papua said on Friday they had arrested a Malaysian tycoon for his alleged involvement in illegal logging in the province.

The suspect, identified as Hii Eii Sing, was arrested in Sorong regency earlier this week, Papua Police chief Insp. Gen. Budi Utomo said. He did not give the exact date.

He said the arrest was made after the police questioned at least nine other Malaysian people working for local timber firm PT Rimba Kayu Artamas.

The nine -- identified as Kong Siew Khiat, Wong Yew Ong, Tiong Huo Kuok, Ling Hie Poh, Lee Yee Choo, Wong King Hung, Wong Liu Piu, Lau Hieng Chong, Kong Siew Khiat and Chua Bum Huat -- were arrested in Merdey subdistrict in the regency of Manokwari on Jan. 5.

The police said the detained Malaysian tycoon owned several Malaysian companies and several hotels and malls in Australia.

Budi was quoted by Antara as saying the police had also arrested a co-owner of PT Artamas, who was also a vice chairman of the Indonesian Timber Business Association (Apkindo) for his alleged role in log smuggling.

He said Hii is currently being detained at National Police Headquarters, while the nine other Malaysian suspects are being held in Papua.

Budi admitted that some Malaysian nationals had for the past few years been living on Papua's marine and forest resources, both illegally and legally.

"Foreigners have been siphoning off Papua's natural wealth, even though many Papuans live in poverty," he said.

The police would focus their investigations on foreigners working in the province, Budi added.

Earlier this week, Minister of Forestry M. Prakosa criticized the involvement of Malaysians in illegal logging in Indonesia.

He voiced the criticism when speaking before the House of Representatives in Jakarta on Monday.

"When the Minister of Industry and Trade and I visited border areas in Kalimantan (which borders Malaysia), we saw a lot of heavy-duty equipment. We suspect this equipment belongs to Malaysian citizens who are involved in illegal logging," the minister was quoted as saying.

Prakosa added that some time ago nine Malaysian citizens were arrested in Papua on account of illegal logging.

Illegal logging has continued unchecked across Indonesia, and an estimated 2.5 million hectares of forest have so far been lost to the country.