Papua Responds to Sound of Forests Falling

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 14, 2006

JAYAPURA, Indonesia -- Marthen Renouw is a steely-eyed detective who boasts that he was the first cop in Papua province to go after environmental crime. Now, the slim man with a quick gait is fending off charges that he took $120,000 in bribes to protect illegal loggers whose chain saws and trucks allegedly damaged thousands of acres of virgin forest in this remote Indonesian province.

He did receive the money, he said in an interview. He called it a loan from friends to hire speedboats and helicopters used in the crackdown. The fact that he was investigating the friends' company at the time he received their money was no conflict, in his view: "We didn't think that they were conducting illegal activity."

The State vs. Marthen Renouw opened in February. He is charged with receiving bribes and with money laundering, the first time that charge has been used in an illegal logging case here. The prosecution is part of an unprecedented government campaign of arrests and confiscations aimed at ending an illicit business that each year has been clearing Indonesian forest areas roughly the size of Belgium.

Legal and forestry experts say, however, that the campaign often loses steam once it hits the courts. A recent report by the World Bank, a British government development agency and the Worldwide Fund for Nature said that cases frequently fail because of incomplete case files, poorly trained judges, restrictions on evidence, tensions between police and prosecutors, lack of prosecutorial oversight and corruption.

"Illegal logging cases in Indonesia almost always result in acquittals," Yenti Garnasih, an expert on money laundering and forestry crimes and a law professor at Trisakti University in Jakarta, one of the country's premier universities. "Why? Sometimes the police and other officials are involved with the illegal logging. They manipulate the evidence. Or they give out fake permits. The police take bribes. And sometimes after that, the prosecutor helps out with a weak indictment."

The Renouw case grew out of Indonesia's first large-scale assault on the trade. Operation Forest Protection 2005 focused on Papua, the country's most remote region, more than 2,000 miles east of the capital, Jakarta. Squads of police and soldiers swooped in, seizing 72,000 logs and 850 logging trucks and ending rampant illegal logging in the province.

Of 193 people charged, more than 60 are at large and only 12 have been convicted, according to national police statistics. The longest sentence imposed was two years. The people convicted were mainly logging camp managers, chain saw operators, boat captains and other low-level personnel. Many of their bosses, the people who run the illegal businesses, appear to have fled to neighboring Malaysia or other countries.

It was remarkable, many legal analysts said, that someone of Renouw's stature was even arrested. He has 28 years on the force and has friends in the national police headquarters.

Here is what the state alleges: Between September 2002 and December 2003, about $120,000 was transferred into four bank accounts held by Renouw in Jakarta and Jayapura, the capital of Papua province. The payments were allegedly made by officials of logging company PT Marindo Utama Jaya and a front company, PT Sanjaya Makmur, which operated in Bintuni Bay district.

In that period, Renouw was investigating illegal logging in the area. One of the companies being probed was Marindo. Renouw reported nothing amiss with the company's logging license, and the initial Marindo probe ended there.

Most of the transfers were made by a Marindo officer named M. Yudi Firmansyah, who Renouw said in an interview was a "trusted friend." Wong Sie King, who police say ran Marindo, though his name does not appear in its legal records, made a $13,000 transfer to Renouw's account in November 2002, according to the indictment. Renouw said he never met Wong.

The transfers, the state alleges, were made so that Marindo could operate heavy logging equipment even though it had no valid permit to do so. The state also alleges that Renouw used the money to charter helicopters and speedboats for the police investigation. Under Indonesian law, that amounted to laundering the money, prosecutors contend.

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