Malaysian firm named suspect in Riau forest fires
Yuliasri Perdani and Rizal Harahap
The Jakarta Post
A day after the Riau administration lifted the haze disaster emergency status, the National Police announced on Thursday they were set to slap charges on a Malaysian firm believed to be responsible for the forest fires in the province.
The police said that they had named PT ADEI Plantation and Industry, a subsidiary of Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhard (KLK), a suspect in the forest burning in Riau carried out to clear land for plantations.
National Police spokesperson Insp. Gen. Ronny F. Sompie said that the company allegedly carried out irresponsible burning practices in its concession area in Riau.
'The company is responsible for the fire and has been declared a suspect, but we have not determined the company's employees who were responsible for the burning,' he said at the National Police headquarters in South Jakarta.
Ronny said that they detected several hotspots in areas controlled by five companies, but had only gained enough evidence on PT ADEI's involvement for its use of illegal slash-and-burn methods to clear land for cultivation.
In June, the slash-and-burn fires created a severe haze that shrouded Singapore and Malaysia. Indonesians living near the blaze also suffered.
The record-setting pollution prompted President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to issue an apology to the neighboring countries.
Separately, Riau Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Hermansyah said that they had questioned 16 witnesses in the case, ranging from PT ADEI's field workers to management-level employees.
'None have been named as the perpetrators of the fire in the company's concession area ['¦] We do not want to rush the naming of the responsible parties,' he told The Jakarta Post in Pekanbaru on Thursday.
Hermansyah declined to mention the names and the positions of the witnesses.
If found guilty, those involved in the irresponsible practices could be charged under the 2002 Environment Law, the 1999 Forestry Law and the Criminal Code with a maximum penalty of 10'years' imprisonment and Rp 10 billion (US$1 million) in fines.
On June 26, KLK published a public statement in the Post, reiterating that it did not subscribe to irresponsible burning practices and was in full compliance with the ASEAN zero burning policy on for its operations on its plantations.
'The purported concession area under PT ADEI is mainly planted with mature palms and is at a productive stage and therefore, there are no land clearing activities for the purpose of new planting,' the statement read.
The Malaysian public-listed firm, however, acknowledged minor occurrences of wild fires within pockets of its concession areas due to the dry season.
Previously, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya suggested 14 companies were the source of forest fires in Riau.
In total eight are Malaysian-owned, namely PT Langgam Inti Hiberida, PT Bumi Rakksa Sejati, PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation (PTTMP), PT Udaya Loh Dinawi as well as PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa, PT Multi Gambut Industri, PT Mustika Agro Lestari and PT ADEI.
Three of the firms under investigation are owned by government-linked companies in Malaysia.
Later on, the police narrowed down their investigation to five companies, including PT ADEI. It remains unclear whether the four remaining companies had been cleared by the police.
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