Another timber company director pursued in a police crackdown on illegal logging in Riau province was acquitted of all charges by judges in the Pelalawan District Court last week.
Managing director of PT Karunia Alam Riau (KAR), Ana Marningsih, had been accused of acquiring timber from a protected forest without the appropriate license.
"We did our best to prove her guilty and demand a sentence of three years in prison, but the panel of judges held a different opinion and believed she wasn't at fault," Riau High Court spokesman Darbin Pasaribu told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
Riau Police raided PT KAR's property in Sikijang Mati village in Bandar Sikijang district, Pelalawan, on Jan. 23 last year. Police found processed and sawn timber of the acasia variety stored without the required timber documents.
"Ana, as director of the company, was charged with violating Law No. 41/1999 on forestry for misappropriating forest resources without a license," Darbin said.
Presiding judge of the Pelalawan District Court, Samsuddin, acquitted Ana of all charges on May 7, and said the timber found by police had originated from a community-based forest, not a preserved forest.
Prosecutors have appealed against the ruling, arguing that Ana had broken the law regardless of what type of forest the timber had been taken from, Darbin said.
Law No. 41/1999 defines forest as both state-owned and traditional forests, he said.
"Even though the timber had been taken from a community forest, it should have come with documents. That's the basis of the law," he said.
Ana's acquittal adds to the list of illegal logging offenders released by the Pelalawan District Court, after it acquitted Harlen Hutauruk, the owner of a sawmill in Pelalawan, who was also charged by prosecutors for violating Law No. 41.
When the Pelalawan Police raided Harlen's sawmill, they found 1,391 processed timber logs and 1,428 of mixed variety taken from a preserved forest without a permit. Local prosecutors also filed an appeal to a higher court against the verdict.
It is still unclear on what grounds the judges released the accused. The Post was unable to reach Judge Samsuddin on his cell phone.
The Indonesian Forum for the Environment's (Walhi) Riau executive director Jhony Setiawan Mundung believed the acquittals had tarnished the judicial system, as judges had ruled the suspects were completely innocent. He expressed concern that verdicts in favor of offenders could set a precedent for others to arbitrarily "fell and pilfer" forests without permits.
"The acquittals have gone too far. It's as though the judges have mocked the law. They are totally insensitive to the environmental destruction and chronic floods that torment people. Hopefully the problem will not spread to other provinces," Jhony said.
He also expressed concern the court result could affect the willingness of law enforcers to fight illegal logging.
"The police and prosecutors are already tired and have spent a lot of money, and the cases resulted in this," he said.
Walhi will now report the panel of judges that handled the cases to the Supreme Court and Judicial Commission, he said.
"The judges have not been serious, because it was a high profile case involving a large company. It could set a precedent for other suspects in the following trials. We urge the Supreme Court to replace the judges. The Judicial Commission must also examine the judges, because something fishy is going on," he said.