Malaysia: Sarawak lost RM41mil due to illegal logging last year

TAN YI LIANG The Star 14 May 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Sarawak lost RM41mil in revenue due to illegal logging last year and forestry officials and other agencies have pledged to come down hard on illegal operators.

Sarawak Forestry Department operations and investigation unit chief Abdul Wahab Haji Ahmad hoped that Ops Gergaji, which started on Tuesday, would send a strong signal that the state government views illegal logging seriously.

"We do not want these loggers damaging our environment.

"We do not want landslides or degradation of the quality of water in the interior of Sarawak. The people living there have no tap water.

"They rely on the water they get from the small rivers. We do not want this to go on," Abdul Wahab, who is with the Department's Prevention and Enforcement Division, told a press conference.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) froze 375 accounts totalling over RM560mil in its latest strike against illegal logging and timber corruption in Sarawak under Ops Gergaji.

More than 500 logs were seized in the joint operation conducted by 400 personnel from the MACC, police, state Forestry Department and the Inland Revenue Board across the state.

The raids were carried out simultaneously at 13 locations in Miri, 12 in Kuching and Sibu, six in Bintulu, three in Bakun and two in Kapit.

Asked about the seized logs, Abdul Wahab said the Forestry Department had its own procedures in disposing the logs, adding that the logs "will not go back to the people who felled them."

Sarawak MACC director Datuk Badrul Shah Norman said the Commission was looking at more than illegal logging in Ops Gergaji.

"We are looking at corrupt activities and leakage in government revenue.

"We wanted to send a message that we will not tolerate illegal logging or leakage,he said.

He said that Ops Gergaji took about six months of planning before it went into full swing on Tuesday.

"We had to plan and pinpoint the correct spots where illegal logging was taking place, and we had to be very discreet to ensure there was no leakage of information.

"It took us four months to analyse the data collected from the various agencies, and we were assisted by images from the Forestry Department which we compared with the concessions that had been granted," said Badrul.

"The MACC seized voluminous amounts of documents such as bank vouchers and ledgers from the companies that were raided.

"We are studying the ledgers to check if any financial impropriety has taken place," said Badrul.

He added that there was no time frame for the completion of Ops Gergaji as raids also depend on weather conditions.