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Indonesian official arrested for running $150m illegal logging ring

A former police officer has been arrested in Indonesia for orchestrating a $150 million illegal logging ring in Indonesian New Guinea.

Labora Sitorus was identified after an investigation by the Indonesia Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK) which linked his company, PT Rotua, to a recent seizure of 115 containers worth of illegally-logged merbau timber in Surabaya. A further 1,500 merbau logs have been seized in Papua, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an environmental group that documented Sitorus’ involvement as early as 2009.

PPATK has estimated that $150 million has passed through PT Rotua’s bank accounts in the past five years. The logging ring, which was centered on the Raja Ampat Islands of West Papua, also involved illegal trapping of endangered birds for the pet trade, according to EIA, which is calling upon the Indonesian government to fully prosecute the case.

“It is imperative that Indonesia now properly investigates and prosecutes this case, including all the actors in the timber chain downstream from Sitorus and any protectors in the police or other authorities who have allowed his crimes to go unpunished for so long,” said EIA’s Faith Doherty in a statement.

Rogue Indonesian Cop’s Illegal Logging Operations (Video News Release).

She added that the involvement of government officials in illegal timber trafficking raises concerns about the country’s recently launched timber traceability scheme known as the Timber Legality Verification System (SVLK).

“Long-term police involvement in major illegal logging and export-oriented timber trade is of great concern to EU importers of Indonesian wood products, and no doubt to the EU itself which has been very supportive of Indonesia in the development of the SVLK,” Doherty said. “Just as the EU Timber Regulation comes into force, the Sitorus case makes it difficult to believe all is well in Indonesia’s timber trade. It is imperative Indonesia protects the reputational gains the SVLK is bringing it by showing the world it can successfully prosecute this blatant case of police corruption.”

Lowland rainforest in West Papua.

Illegal logging for merbau timber in Indonesian New Guinea has been rampant in recent years. Most of the timber is bound for China.

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