Tiong Hiew King, founder and chairman of the Rimbunan Hijau Group, a Malaysian logging firm notorious for large-scale destruction of rainforests, has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth, a move which environmentalists say directly conflicts with her son’s campaign to save global rainforests. Prince Charles established the Prince’s Rainforests Project in 2007 and has become increasingly vocal in his calls to conserve forests.
The Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), a Swiss NGO that campaigns on behalf of forests and forest people of Sarawak, a state in Malaysian Borneo, immediately condemned Queen’s decision to honor Tiong.
“Tiong is unfit for such a distinction, Queen should deprive him of his knighthood,” the group said in a statement. “The Queen has awarded a knighthood to a Malaysian timber tycoon whose companies have been destroying the world’s tropical rainforests for decades and have been heavily involved in illegal logging activities.”
Tiong was knighted by the Queen in recognition of his “services to commerce, community and charitable organisations” (PDF) in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Environmentalists have fiercely criticized Rimbunan Hijau, the largest logging operator in PNG, for alleged human rights abuses, corruption and environmental damage.
“Ironically, the Queen has thus decorated one of the main responsibles for the illegal exploitation of Papua New Guinea’s tropical forests,” said BMF.
“To knight the PNG rainforest mafia is a calamity of the highest order,” Glen Barry, founder and director of the forest advocacy group Ecological Internet, told mongabay.com via email. “These are rainforest-destroying criminals. Whose side is UK’s monarchy on anyway besides there own?”
Rimbunan Hijau has operations in Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Russia, among other countries. Tiong founded the firm in 1976 and today is one of Malaysia’s richest men, with a net worth of more than a billion dollars according to Forbes.
22-June-2009 A reader points out that the Queen herself didn’t make the decision to knight Tiong:
- The Queen only nominally knights people in Commonwealth countries, just as she does not directly select Governor Generals as ‘her representative’ in those countries. The point here is that the PNG Government though the Prime Minister’s Dept. made this decision that was endorsed by the PNG National Executive Council (effectively their cabinet), and there is no precedent for the queen to refuse this.
23-June-2009. BMF reports confusion of whether Tiong was actually knighted.
Rising doubts over timber tycoon’s knighthood
Tiong Hiew King, founder and chairman of the notorious Malaysian Rimbunan Hijau Group, may not have been knighted as announced by his media group in Malaysia and Papua New Guinea
On 15 and 16 June 2009, a number of media in Malaysia and Papua New Guinea announced that Tiong Hiew King, the billionaire owner of the Rimbunan Hijau logging group, had been bestowed a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II. for services to commerce, community and charitable organizations in Papua New Guinea.
The news was carried among others by the Malaysian daily Sin Chiew and the Papua New Guinean newspaper The National, which are both owned by Tiong. On the same day, the Media Chinese International group, which is controlled by the Tiong family, referred in a Hong Kong stock exchange announcement to “Sir Tiong Hiew King” as a member of its board of directors.
Research by the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) is now raising doubts if Tiong has actually been bestowed a knighthood. Tiong’s name does not appear on the official Queen’s birthday honors list as published by the British dailies The Independent and The Guardian. BMF is currently awaiting a clarification regarding Tiong’s knighthood from the Honours and Appointments Secretariat of the Cabinet Office.
The Bruno Manser Fund believes that, due to the devastating social and environmental effects of Rimbunan Hijau’s logging activities around the world, Tiong is unfit for a knighthood.
25-June-2009. BMF expresses doubts Tiong was knighted.
Ten days ago, various Asian media announced that “Sir” Tiong Hiew King, the billionaire founder and chairman of the controversial Malaysian Rimbunan Hijau Group, had been awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to commerce, the community and charitable organizations in Papua New Guinea.
Research by the Bruno Manser Fund has shown that Tiong’s name does not appear on the official Papua New Guinea Queen’s birthday list published by the London Gazette. According to the Honours and Appointments Secretariat of the United Kingdom’s Cabinet Office, Tiong’s name was not on the list because it includes “only substantive holders of awards”. Being neither a citizen of Papua New Guinea nor the United Kingdom, Tiong can not qualify as a substantive award holder but only as an “honorary” one, with grave symbolic consequences: “As Mr Tiong’s knighthood is honorary, he cannot be called ‘Sir’.”
The Cabinet Office further explains that the Papua New Guinea Birthday Honours List is approved by HM The Queen “in her constitutional capacity as Queen of Papua New Guinea and on the advice of Her Papua New Guinea Ministers.”
It appears increasingly clear that the Queen was ill-advised by her Papua New Guinea Ministers. Tiong Hiew King is commonly known to be one of the chief people responsible for wide-spread illegal logging in both Papua New Guinea and other countries. A Greenpeace 2004 report said that Rimbunan Hijau’s activities were “often characterized by a disregard for the law, with documented illegalities in many aspects of their operations”.
Papua New Guinea environmental and human rights campaigners reacted with shock to the news of Tiong’s knighthood, describing it as a bad joke. Due to the devastating social and environmental effects of Rimbunan Hijau’s logging activities, the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) deems Tiong to be unfit for a knighthood and calls upon the Queen and the Papua New Guinea government to deprive him of this honor.
30-June-2009. Tiong newspaper attacks the Bruno Manser Fund
Sin Chew, a Chinese-language Malaysian daily owned by timber tycoon cum media mogul, Tiong Hiew King, labels the Bruno Manser Fund a “dubious foundation” that is aiming at “maligning and destroying Tiong”.
Days after the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) launched an international campaign to strip Rimbunan Hijau chairman Tiong Hiew King of his recently bestowed knighthood, Tiong’s media group has started to strike back.
In an article published yesterday by the Chinese-language Malaysian daily, Sin Chiew, the Bruno Manser Fund is labeled a “dubious foundation” whose allegations against Tiong were “merely supported by speculations”. The Bruno Manser Fund has called on the Queen to deprive Tiong Hiew King of his recently bestowed knighthood because of Tiong’s responsibility for the illegal logging of forests in Papua New Guinea and other countries. The Bruno Manser Fund had also reported that Tiong is not allowed to use the title ‘Sir’ because he is not a ‘substantive’ holder of a title.
Sin Chiew accuses the Malaysian online news service, Malaysiakini, of a “breach of journalistic ethics” for having taken up a BMF press release on the issue. Sin Chiew fails to declare that it is owned by Tiong Hiew King.
A 2004 Greenpeace report on Tiong’s transnational logging group concluded that Rimbunan Hijau was significantly involved in forest crime and that it represented “everything that is wrong” with the way in which forests are being managed: “Many of its logging operations are characterized by illegal access, environmental damage, human rights abuses, social conflict and political corruption”, Greenpeace concluded.
1-July-2009. UK officials distance themselves from timber tycoon’s knighting
Buckingham Palace: “Honours list cleared by the Foreign Office and the Malaysian government” – Foreign Office: “The palace would have decided on the award.”
Two weeks after the knighting of Tiong Hiew King, the controversial timber tycoon, by Queen Elizabeth II, no British authority is prepared to take responsibility for the step, which appears to be increasingly embarrassing for the Royals and the British government. According to an article published today by The Guardian website, “both the UK government and Buckingham palace distanced themselves from the appointment.”
The Guardian quotes a Foreign Office spokesman as having said that “the palace would have decided on the award”. However, Buckingham palace puts the blame for the clearing of Tiong’s name on the Foreign Office. “The prime minister of Papua New Guinea, supported by the governor general, would have made the recommendation to the queen. It would then have been cleared by the Foreign Office and the Malaysian government”, said a spokesman for the palace. Clarence House, which represents Prince Charles, declined to comment. Prince Charles has recently launched “The Prince’s Rainforest Project” which aims to battle against tropical deforestation.
Times Online today quotes a Papua New Guinea 2004 government report which unveiled unethical practices by the Tiong-owned Rimbunan Hijau logging group. According to the report, the company’s treatment of its employees reflected “exploitation and slavery and should be condemned at all levels.” The Times also reported on claims by a former Papua New Guinea police officer that he had been paid to intimidate local people who attempted to prevent their rainforests from being logged by Tiong’s company.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace, Survival International and a number of other environmental and human rights organizations from around the world have endorsed the Bruno Manser Fund’s call on the Queen to strip Tiong of his knighthood over his illegal logging record.