Conservation news

Police charge Indonesian politician’s brother in deforestation case

  • Police in Indonesia have charged the brother of a provincial deputy governor with clearing a protected forest to make way for an oil palm plantation.
  • Musa Idishah was questioned by investigators, but released pending the investigation.
  • His brother, North Sumatra Deputy Governor Musa Rajekshah, previously ran the company at the center of the investigation, and has also been linked to another corruption scandal.
  • Oil palm plantations are a major driver of deforestation on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where they are often carved out of ostensibly protected forests.

MEDAN, Indonesia — Police have charged the brother of a top official in Sumatra with clearing a protected forest for a palm oil plantation.

Musa Idishah, better known as Dodi Shah, is the director of a company that police allege conspired with local officials to change the designation of up to 500 hectares (1,236 acres) of forest, thereby allowing it to be destroyed. The forest, in North Sumatra province’s Langkat district, was originally designated only for selective logging.

Idishah is the younger brother of Musa Rajekshah, the deputy governor of North Sumatra and the previous director of the company at the center of the case, PT Anugerah Langkat Makmur (ALAM).

Police brought Idishah in for questioning on Jan. 31 and subsequently charged him with violations of the forestry, plantations, and environmental protection acts. They released him from custody the following day but have barred him from leaving the country pending the investigation. Police also said they planned to continue questioning everyone linked to the case, including Rajekshah.

A worker transports fresh oil palm fruit bunches to a collection point in North Sumatra province. Image by Nanang Sujana for RAN/Oppuk.

Idishah and Rajekshah are nephews of Rahmat Shah, the head of the Indonesian Zoo Association and a well-known big-game hunter in Asia.

Shortly before the gubernatorial election that swept him to power last year, Rajekshah was linked to another corruption case. He was questioned as a witness by the country’s anti-graft agency, the KPK, in a corruption case centering on bribes paid by a previous governor, Gatot Pujo Nugroho, to the provincial legislature to approve the provincial budget. (Gatot was in 2017 convicted and sentenced to four years in jail in that case.).

An oil palm plantation near a national park in northern Sumatra, Indonesia. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

Abdon Nababan, a prominent indigenous rights activist who ran against Rajekshah’s ticket in the 2018 vote, told Mongabay that the election that was marred with corruption involving plantation companies.

Some 8,000 square kilometers (3,100 square miles) of privately held plantations in North Sumatra, much of them oil palm, are located in protected forests that are supposed to be off-limits to commercial agriculture, according to government data.

Throughout the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo, the clearing of forests for oil palm plantations has seen the country rival Brazil for the sheer volume of deforestation. An analysis by WWF has found that Sumatra lost 56 percent of its forest cover — an area spanning 140,000 square kilometers (54,000 square miles), or greater than Indonesia’s main island of Java — since 1985.

The video below shows police investigators arriving at Idishah’s house, and an interview with the provincial police’s head of special investigations.

The story was reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and was first published on our Indonesian site on Feb. 3, 2019.

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