A rare court decision on the smog.
A Malaysian plantation manager has been found guilty over forest fires in Riau last year which blanketed Malaysia and Singapore in smoke, reports the Jakarta Post today.
Danesuvaran K.R. Singam of plantation company PT ADEI Plantation and Industry was sentenced to a year in jail and the option of paying Rp 2 billion (RM556,000) or serving an additional two months in jail for violating Article 99 (1) of the Environmental Protection and Management Law 2009.
The general manager was sentenced by the Pelalawan District Court in Riau on Tuesday, the paper reported.
The Indonesian daily quoted judge Donovan Pendapotan as saying that "the defendant was negligent in his supervisory role of the estate".
“He should have actively prevented irresponsible parties from slipping into the estate and setting the fires."
The Jakarta Post reported that Danesuvaran was not sent directly to jail after the hearing and that the prosecution would wait for a “final and binding verdict” from the Supreme Court.
Prosecutors would also appeal the sentence, prosecuting officer Banu Laksmana was quoted as saying.
PT ADEI was also found guilty of violating the same offence and has to pay a Rp1.5 billion fine, the court ruled.
The firm is a unit of Malaysian company Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd. Alternatively, its director, Tan Kei Yoong, is to be jailed five months.
PT ADEI also has to pay another Rp 15.1 billion for environmental damages caused by the fires.
These fines, however, are deemed “too light” by some and do not serve as a deterrent, the Jakarta Post reported.
The paper quoted the law-enforcement monitoring deputy at the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4), Mas Achmad Santosa as saying that "the judges’ lack of appreciation of the ecological crisis was the reason behind such a light punishment".
"They do not reflect the court’s sense of crisis about the impact of land and forest fires on our environment,” he was reported saying.
But Mas Achmad also praised the court for holding the company and its top officials accountable, as lower-level field operators were usually those apprehended.
The Indonesian Forum for the Environment’s (Walhi) Riau chapter executive director Riko Kurniawan said the court should expedite its deliberations in future.
He said the two cases took some seven months.
Between June and August last year, severe smoke as a result of slash-and-burn fires on plantations in Riau and parts of Kalimantan covered Singapore and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.
Singapore has passed a law that allows the city state to prosecute local and foreign firms involved in illegal forest burning. – September 12, 2014.
The men are managers of PT Adei Plantation and Industry, a subsidiary of Malaysia-listed Kuala Lumpur Kepong based in Indonesia’s Riau province.
Kuala Lumpur Kepong is one of Malaysia’s largest palm oil planters. The company has denied wrongdoing in the summer fires, which peaked in June.
Amran Aris, head of immigration in Pekanbaru, the capital of Sumatra’s Riau province, on Friday named the men as Tan Kei Yoong and Danesuvaran KR Singam. He told reporters that his office placed a six-month travel ban on the men earlier this month following a request from provincial police.
Attempts to reach the men for comment at their company were unsuccessful.
Adei was one of eight companies named as suspects following an outbreak of hundreds of illegal agricultural fires in Sumatra in June that sent pollution to record hazardous levels in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia. Clearing land by fire is illegal for all but the smallest landholders in Indonesia, but major fires are nonetheless an annual event in the dry season.
Environmental experts say many are caused by medium-sized companies clearing land to make way for new plantations.
In September, provincial police said they had found evidence that Adei burned peatland areas to expand its oil palm crops — a charge denied by the company –and that they were investigating precisely who at the company allegedly was responsible.
After the peak of the blazes, Indonesia’s environment ministry named companies that were under investigation—a rare move given a lack of major prosecution ever. But since then, officials across the government have been tight-lipped about investigations.
A senior government official told The Wall Street Journal this week that officials outside of the police have been under instruction not to name companies that might be implicated in the fires. The official said a number of mid-size companies would likely be prosecuted, and that many are part of complicated supply chains that feed some of the world’s largest palm oil companies.
Indonesia’s $20 billion palm oil industry is the world’s largest. Riau province is the heart of the industry and base of operations for major companies from Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. It’s also home to Indonesia’s largest pulpwood companies.
–Joko Hariyanto in Jakarta contributed to this article