Sat, 05 Jul 2003

Regent named a suspect in illegal logging case

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The police in Kupang, capital of East Nusa Tenggara province, will immediately investigate the Kupang regent as a suspect in the felling of teak trees in a protected forest in North Amfoang district, says a police officer.

"There is enough material evidence implicating the regent. He will undergo police interrogation soon," director of the detective and crimes unit at the provincial police Sr. Comr. Gatot Repli said here on Friday.

Among the material evidence is 1,124 teak logs that have been seized by the police.

The regent, who has been identified only as IAM, was questioned together with the chief of the local agriculture and forestry office, MDM, for the issuance of a permit for the logging.

"MDM has been barred from leaving the city and will be obliged to show up at the Kupang Police office once a week," Gatot said, adding that police were still preparing the suspect's dossier before bringing the case before the Kupang District Court.

Gatot said that the police had sent two detectives to Surabaya in East Java to interrogate a timber businessman who was indirectly involved in the case.

He explained that according to information the police received from reliable sources, the logging in the protected forest was connected to a business deal between the regent and P. Sari Irawati, president of timber company PT Sejati Lira Mas in Surabaya.

"The confiscated logs were originally intended to pay the regent's remaining debt to the timber company president. Unfortunately for him the logs were discovered before he could use them as payment," he said, pledging that the police would investigate the case thoroughly and objectively despite the involvement of the regent.

According to Gatot, the regent owed Rp 303 million (US$36,951) as a result of the business deal with Irawati. He returned Rp 100 million in cash and vowed to send logs to pay the remaining Rp 203 million.

"Insp. Yacob Hangge and Brig. Ida Bagus Chandra are still interrogating Irawati. We have yet to receive the result," he said, adding that Irawati sent several letters to urge the regent to pay his debt since the logs had not arrived.

Gatot said the intended transaction was revealed in March when the logs were to have been carried by ship from the Kupang seaport to Surabaya.

Asked on how a permit for the logging at the protected forest was issued, Gatot explained that the local agriculture and forestry office chief was ordered by the regent to write a letter from a fictitious Amfoang tribal leader requesting the logging.

"Resulting from the tribal leader's (falsified) letter, the local agriculture and forestry office chief issued a permit for the slashing of teak trees at the protected forest in June 2002," he said.

He added that the number of suspects was likely to increase as the police investigation into the case continued.

Law No. 41/1999 on forestry bans logging in protected forests, for which the maximum penalty is 10 years in jail or a Rp 5 billion fine.