Indonesia: Jakarta to sue 9 more firms over forest fires linked to haze

Arlina Arshad Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta Straits Times 1 Mar 16;

The Indonesian government is to take nine more companies to court over forest fires that led to the transboundary haze crisis last year.

This takes to 19 the number of firms being sued by the Environment and Forestry Ministry over the environmental disaster.

The ministry's director-general for law enforcement, Mr Rasio Ridho Sani, said the government plans to sanction the 19 firms over the forest fires "as soon as possible".

"They have failed to carry out their responsibility as stipulated in their permits, which resulted in fires," he told The Straits Times during an event at the ministry yesterday.

He declined to name the firms or say whether they are local or foreign, but he said that 23 other companies have been penalised over the illegal fires, including 16 that had their business licences suspended and three that have been permanently banned from operating in Indonesia.

The ministry has been suing plantation firms for causing land and forest fires since 2013, but Mr Rasio said catching those responsible for the fires is not easy.

"The crimes took place in the forest, so unless the perpetrators were caught red-handed, it's not easy to pinpoint who actually set the fires," he said.

"These cases are so complex and very hard to prove, so we need the support of experts to help us convince the judges to hand out appropriate sentences."

The latest move comes two weeks after the government filed an appeal over a court decision on its lawsuit against local pulpwood plantation company Bumi Mekar Hijau (BMH) for similar violations.

The government sued BMH for 7.8 trillion rupiah (S$820 million) last year for clearing land in 2014 using the outlawed slash-and- burn technique, a method that often leads to uncontrollable fires which produce thick haze. But a Palembang district court ruled on Dec 30 that there was no evidence that BMH had deliberately started fires.

Mr Rasio said the ministry had lodged its appeal in the South Sumatra provincial court following consultations with 26 legal experts.

"We are committed to handling this case in a very serious manner," he said.

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