Jail time for directors of Indonesian companies over possession of illegal timber

The District Court in Makassar, Indonesia, has sentenced the directors of four different Indonesian companies to one year each in prison and a total fine of RP500 million (about £29,000).

The jail terms were handed down last week after the defendants pleaded guilty to transporting merbau (Intsia bijuga) with falsified documents in an attempt to circumvent national timber legality regulations.

The case arose as a result of the seizure of, and subsequent investigation into, 57 containers filled with illegal wood by the Directorate of Forest Protection earlier this year, of which 21 were ascribed to the accused; the other containers, with illegal timber from Papua and West Papua, are still under investigation.

Illegally logged merbau, West Papua (c) EIAimage

Our Forests Campaign welcomes this result as well as the ongoing enhanced efforts of the Indonesian authorities to address the illicit trade in Merbau which have led to the confiscation of 422 containers packed with illegally harvested timber worth more than $7 million since last December.

Against the backdrop of the successful conviction and resulting prison sentences, we are hopeful that the Indonesian authorities will retain their momentum on the pending cases and will continue to uphold the same standards of legal scrutiny and integrity in the future fight against timber criminals.

The act of confiscating shipments of illegally sourced timber cannot be considered a default solution by itself, however, and the authorities need to continue exercising the full set of enforcement rights to send a clear signal to perpetrators that “committing a crime is equal to doing time” thereby empowering safeguards in the country’s timber legality assurance system, or SVLK, as an effective deterrent to criminals.

Following the seizure, EIA reminds the Indonesian Authorities that this seized non- SVLK certified timber cannot be introduced into the supply chain by way of auctioning.

The scale of recent seizures shines a light on existing weaknesses within the SVLK and associated certification shortcomings. These include concerns about the credibility of certification agencies themselves, often paid by timber companies to certify them, as well as more elaborate schemes to bypass timber legality regulations; such strategies include logging in non-forest areas by abusing timber utilisation permits (IPK) as well as exploiting abandoned logging concessions or customary forests managed by indigenous communities.

However, the recent seizures also show that with rigorous enforcement, such as took place in this one operation, there will be consequences for those who engage in the illegal timber trade.

We urge both Indonesia and the European Union, currently within the process of the periodic evaluation of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), to ensure that the strengthening of the SVLK results in a more robust system thereby enhancing the future credibility of licences issued under the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) action plan.

* EIA has been investigating and exposing merbau theft and illegal trade for the past two decades, from reports such as Rogue Traders, which named two of the kingpins in Indonesia behind the trade, to the exposure of corrupt Indonesian policeman Labora Sitorus.