National

Businessmen admits paying
Batam authorities to use
forest land

A businessman says he obtained a license to use protected forest land in Batam by depositing money into a bank account owned by the Batam Industrial Development Authorities (BIDA)

Abidin, chairman of the Indonesian Employers' Association (Apindo) provincial chapter, confessed to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) on Thursday.

The KPK have questioned a number of local officials over the conversion of Baloi protected forest into a business center in Batam.

The KPK asked a number of businesspeople, who obtained licenses to use the land, for statements, Abidin said.

Abidin said he was not interrogated by the KPK.

"I was asked by KPK," he said. "I didn't know it was a protected forest. After depositing a sum of money, I realized I couldn't develop the land."

Abidin said he applied to BIDA for a 10-hectare plot in 2003 on behalf of his company. BDA approved 5 hectares in 2004.

Since 2004, he has deposited a compulsory tax of Rp 2.5 billion (approximately US$277,000) annually.

"However, since I was unable to develop the land until now, I want to ask for a refund," said Abidin.

He planned to build a shopping mall on the plot, which is located in the heart of Batam city. However, he shelved his plan after the dispute.

"As far as I know, every businessman who received land in the Baloi Dam area has been asked for statements from KPK, but I couldn't tell you who they are," said Abidin.

Agussahim, who has twice been summoned, refused to comment. He was head of the provincial revenue office during between 2002 and 2006.

The Baloi dam forest preserve in the city center of Batam spans 109 hectares. The dam in the preserve has a 200,000 cubic-meter capacity and is the city's source of clean water. The preserve was closed in 2004 to be converted into a commercial area.

The change in land use procedures was submitted to the Forestry Ministry in 2003. Despite an approval from the forestry minister, BIDA and Batam municipality transferred the land rights to a number of businesspeople.

The land use rights on Batam Island and its surroundings are in the hands of BIDA, based on a home affairs ministerial decree.

According to a source close to BIDA, Batam municipality looked forward to allocating land strategically with the inception of regional autonomy. This is the reason behind their endorsement of the land conversion at Baloi, the source said.

The annual compulsory fee was set at Rp 51,750 per meter. Therefore, the total funds collected -- assuming all the businessmen deposited funds to BIDA -- would amount to Rp 56 billion.

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