Indonesian plantation director in conflict with indigenous community charged with illegal logging

by Nurdin Tubaka/ Mongabay News

  • Imanuel Darusman, a director of CV Sumber Berkat Makmur, was charged by Indonesia’s forestry ministry.
  • An official with the ministry’s law enforcement bureau said they began to look into the case when the arrest of 26 indigenous people by the local police for vandalising the company’s equipment made headlines across the Maluku region in February.
  • Most of the indigenous people were quickly freed, though two of them were formally charged with vandalism.

AMBON, Indonesia — Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry has charged a director of a plantation firm on the eastern Indonesian island of Seram with illegal logging in a dispute with an indigenous community.

The dispute made headlines in February when 26 members of the Sabuai indigenous group were arrested following a confrontation over the logging activities of the company, CV Sumber Berkat Makmur (SBM). Two community members, Stefanus Ahwalam and Khaleb Yamarua, were subsequently charged by the police in East Seram district with vandalising the firm’s property.

The company director, Imanuel Darusman, faces a maximum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment and a 100 billion rupiah ($6.2 million) fine under a 2013 law against deforestation, according to Yosep Nong, the head of the environment ministry’s law enforcement bureau in the Maluku-Papua region.

The bureau began looking at the case after it began to be reported widely in the local press, Yosep said. The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and the national ombudsman’s office also asked the bureau to look at the case. After that, investigators went undercover and sought licensing documents from the local government. The bureau has also interrogated the head of the company.

“It started with the news of the arrest,” Yosep said. “Then we developed and traced it. After we arrived in Jakarta, Komnas HAM, the Ombudsman and the ministry asked us to explore the case. At that time we did not know the root of the problem.”

Yosep said SBM had a license to cultivate nutmeg trees, known as an IPK permit. Such a permit allows the holder to log trees if necessary and sell the timber. But the bureau found the company had been doing plenty of logging and no planting at all.

“As it turned out, the company was exploiting wood outside its IPK area and even encroaching into selective logging and logging concessions,” Josep said, adding that SBM’s activities had extended up to 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) beyond its concession.

Rasio Ridho Sani, the environment ministry’s head of law enforcement, said illegal logging was rife in the Maluku and Papua regions. Perpetrators, he added, should receive the maximum penalty as a deterrent.

“They deserve to be punished,” he said. “We are very serious and we will not stop cracking down on illegal loggers.”

Imanuel is being held at the police detention centre in Ambon, the Maluku provincial capital, a police spokesman said.

Usman Bugis, director of the environmental group Nanaku Maluku, said SBM had numerous problems with its licenses, including lacking an environmental impact analysis, known locally as Amdal.

“There are so many problems caused by the company,” he said. “At this time when it rains, people from the villages of Atiahu, Sabuai, Elnusa and Tunsai are directly affected by floods from the rivers where the company operates. It’s an environmental crime, you can’t let it go.”

Imanuel had told reporters that the company was operating in accordance with the law and denied that it had cleared outside its licensed area.

Stefanus Ahwalam and Khaleb Yamarua, the two indigenous people who were charged with vandalism, have been released pending the investigation and are required to report regularly to the police.

Leny Patty, head of the Maluku branch of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), said the group was monitoring the situation and that the two men had been treated well by authorities.

“The law must be enforced, and not just on ordinary people, while businessmen rob the community’s ancestral forest,” she said.

This story was first reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and published here on our Indonesian site on March 24, 2020.

Photo on display: The East Seram police release most of the indigenous men detained after staging a protest against illegal logging. Image courtesy of the East Seram Police