The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) today welcomed a legal probe by Indonesia’s national anti-corruption agency into million-dollar payments by a rogue cop-turned-timber smuggler to local, regional and national police officials.
The announcement follows revelations that mid-ranking Papua police officer Labora Sitorus transferred about US$1 million (10 billion Indonesian rupiah) in multiple payments to police chiefs between January and April 2013.
As a key timber smuggling kingpin, Sitorus controlled illegal merbau wood trade in West Papua, Indonesia’s last significant forested region.
His network transferred approximately US$100,000 to the national police headquarters in Jakarta and a similar sum to the Papua province police chief. Further multiple payments amounting to hundreds of thousands of US dollars were made to local chiefs of police in Raja Ampat, Sorong, Aimas and Bintuni regencies – all sources of the illegal timber smuggled by Sitorus’ gang.
Sitorus’ representatives claim the transfers are “gratuities”, but the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK) – Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission – has pledged to investigate the payments as clear indications of high-level police corruption.
In May this year, EIA released video footage (below) of illegal loggers harvesting merbau and other species for Labora Sitorus’ timber company, PT Rotua, from forests on Batanta island in the ecologically outstanding Raja Ampat archipelago of West Papua – a potential World Heritage site candidate. PT Rotua also reportedly received timber from the forests of Sorong, Aimas, Bintuni and other regions of West Papua.
Rogue Indonesian Cop's Illegal Logging Operations (Video News Release) from EIA on Vimeo.
In releasing the footage, EIA called on the KPK to investigate police corruption in the case, following the collapse of previous similar cases of police involvement in illegal merbau trade in West Papua.
Faith Doherty, head EIA’s Forest Campaign, said: “We warmly welcome the KPK’s intervention in the Labora Sitorus case. Police corruption has facilitated the illegal decimation of Indonesia’s forests for years and undermined the Government’s wider efforts to reform the timber trade. EIA has been campaigning for real enforcement against those such as Labora Sitorus for over a decade; perhaps, with the KPK involvement, justice may finally be served in this one case.”
The Sitorus case casts significant doubts on the effectiveness of a timber legality assurance system designed to eradicate illegal logging in the country and maintain access to environmentally sensitive markets which have banned illegal timber imports, such as the EU, USA and Australia. Indonesian and EU experts are currently evaluating the legality scheme.
The financial transfers to police also coincided with large shipments of illegal merbau wood from Sitorus’ Papuan network to companies in Surabaya, East Java – the country’s main timber processing and export hub. Several companies receiving Sitorus’ illegal timber are in turn known to supply world markets such as China, Australia and the EU.
Merbau, an increasingly endangered species used for flooring, outdoor decking, and other uses, has become a mainstay of Indonesia’s billion-dollar timber exports in recent years as other species have been logged-out across the country.
Doherty added: “Indonesia’s international timber customers, particularly the EU, Australia and the US, can have little confidence in forest sector reform until corrupt police profiting from illegal logging and timber smuggling are seen to be held accountable. Indonesia’s people, forests and biodiversity have a bleak future if the rule of the jungle continues to trump the rule of law.”
Police corruption remains a significant barrier to reform and the establishment of the rule of law in Indonesia, and many commentators see the KPK as the only hope of cleaning up the police.
In May 2013, National Police Commissioner M. Nasser criticised Sitorus’ arrest, claiming it was “reasonable” that US$150 million had passed through accounts linked to the local policeman and his timber business in recent years.