News / Asia

Indonesia Builds Criminal Cases Against 8 Firms Over Fires

A family rides on a motorcycle as the haze from fires hits Kubu district in Rokan Hilir, in Indonesia's Riau province, June 25, 2013.A family rides on a motorcycle as the haze from fires hits Kubu district in Rokan Hilir, in Indonesia's Riau province, June 25, 2013.
x
A family rides on a motorcycle as the haze from fires hits Kubu district in Rokan Hilir, in Indonesia's Riau province, June 25, 2013.
A family rides on a motorcycle as the haze from fires hits Kubu district in Rokan Hilir, in Indonesia's Riau province, June 25, 2013.
Reuters
— Indonesian investigators are building criminal cases against eight Southeast Asian companies they suspect of being responsible for raging fires that have blanketed neighboring Singapore and Malaysia with hazardous smog.

The Environment Ministry last week named the firms for their alleged role in Southeast Asia's worst air pollution crisis in 16 years, which has raised concerns over public health and hurt business and tourism in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Owners of five of the plantations have denied any wrongdoing. Reuters has not been able to contact the others.

A 2009 law carries tough penalties for environmental crimes, although such regulations have rarely been enforced due to Indonesia's endemic corruption and sprawling geography.

And investigators could find it hard to pin the blame on specific firms because of the complex ownership of palm oil concessions and pulp and paper holdings on Indonesia's Sumatra island where most of the fires are burning.

But outrage from Singapore as well as environmental groups is putting pressure on Jakarta. Fires are used to clear land on plantations and can burn for weeks because of peat deposits below the surface.

”This is the first major haze since the new law. This is the first big opportunity for the government to use it,'' said Peter Kanowski, deputy director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), a conservation organization based in Indonesia.

Three of the firms under investigation are owned by government-linked companies in Malaysia. Unlike Singapore, Malaysia has not publicly admonished Indonesia over the smog.

An initial on-the-ground investigation by dozens of officials in Sumatra's Riau province found evidence of fires on land licensed to PT Tunggal Mitra Plantations and PT Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati, said Sudariyono, the Environment Ministry's enforcement chief.

The two firms are owned by the world's largest palm oil planter by landbank, Malaysia's Sime Darby Bhd, via its Indonesian subsidiary Minamas Plantation.

In a statement, Sime Darby said the latest satellite maps from the U.S. government agency NASA, overlaid with the company's own map of its concessions, showed no fires at Tunggal Mitra Plantations.

There were three fires in Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati's concession area. However, they were outside the company's operating area, said Sime Darby, which is backed by state funds in Malaysia.

Sime Darby cited Indonesian regulations, imposed in the 1980s, under which local farmers can use concession land without restrictions. The firm said it has not cleared land since April.

Some farmers illegally clear land using ‘slash and burn’ techniques during the June to September dry season.

Fourteen people had been arrested this week for lighting fires, national police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar said. He declined to say if any were employed by the named companies, but added there was evidence of fires at concessions owned by all eight firms.

Sudariyono said investigators had visited concessions of all the firms and were using GPS data to establish the location of fires. They were focusing initially on “going after the local companies” and would pursue any links to parent firms later.

He declined to give more details, but said more companies would be investigated.
 
Tough penalties

The Environment Ministry and the police are leading the investigation and say they will decide if there is enough evidence to recommend the attorney general's office pursue the case further.

A team of 58 police officers and nine officials from the Environment Ministry were on the ground in Riau, the epicenter of the fires, police said.

Action has rarely been taken against plantation companies since the first major Indonesian haze crisis in 1997, when smog disrupted shipping and air travel across Southeast Asia.

Under the 2009 law, a person or company found guilty of starting a forest fire can face up to 10 years in jail and 10 billion rupiah ($1 million) in fines.

A guilty company can also have their profits seized, operations shut down and be sued for damages.

Palm oil is a key ingredient for products such as cooking oil and biofuel. Global demand has nearly doubled in seven years to more than 51 million tons, with much of it produced in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Industry data show oil palms cover about five million hectares in Malaysia and more than eight million hectares in Indonesia.

Among the other firms Sudariyono listed was PT Multi Gambut Industri, known officially in Malaysia as PT TH Indo Plantations.

It is a unit of the Malaysian state-linked Pilgrimage Fund Board. Kuala Lumpur-listed TH Plantations Berhad, also a unit of the fund, manages TH Indo Plantations.

TH Plantations said it had ‘zero-burning’ policies, adding it had observed instances of open burning outside the boundaries of the estates it managed.

You May Like

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid