Illegal Traders Go Unpunished as Stolen Wood Continues to Flood into Malaysia

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Kuala Lumpur, 7th May 2004: The Malaysian government is continuing to turn a blind eye as Malaysian traders move stolen wood through the country, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Indonesian partners Telapak revealed today. Recent commitments to clamp down on the illicit trade have been revealed as little more than paper-thin attempts to re-assure overseas buyers.

The allegations come after the Malaysian authorities allowed a shipment of square logs from Indonesia to pass through the port of Pasir Gudang unhindered despite an inspection which confirmed the wood had been brought in to the country illegally. The Malaysian traders involved are known smugglers previously found to be in possession of more than a thousand tonnes of endangered Indonesian ramin wood.

We had hoped that Malaysia’s recent statements and the record seizure of ramin were an indication that the country was taking the issue seriously, but this case demonstrates that their promises to halt imports of stolen wood are not to be trusted” said Sam Lawson, EIA Forest Campaigner.

Three months ago EIA/Telapak released a damning report and video, Profiting from Plunder: How Malaysia Smuggles Endangered Wood. The report showed how Malaysian companies and officials were involved in handling millions of dollars of contraband timber from Indonesia. The exposé caused a storm of controversy in Malaysia and prompted a coalition of major environmental groups in the USA to petition their government for wildlife trade sanctions to be imposed on Malaysia if no action was taken.

In spite of initial denials, the Malaysian government belatedly launched an investigation and committed to reviewing the country’s laws. Enforcement officers entered the port at the centre of the allegations – Pasir Gudang in Johor state – and seized 1,600 tonnes of endangered Indonesian ramin wood worth more than a million US dollars.

Faced with growing distrust of the country’s wood products in valuable markets, the Malaysian government has engaged in a public relations campaign to highlight actions the authorities have taken to halt the smuggling of Indonesian wood through the country. These include a ban on imports of Indonesian logs put in place in 2002. But a new case has exposed the trumpeted measures as little more than cynical white-wash.

Acting on an EIA/Telapak tip-off, in late March the Malaysian Timber Industry Board (MTIB) carried out an inspection at Pasir Gudang port and uncovered 139 tonnes of illegal Indonesian bengkirai square logs which had been imported from Indonesia since the Malaysian import ban and were over the prescribed size. In a fax to EIA/Telapak dated 1st April, the MTIB confirmed that the timber has been imported illegally, and that the import ban did apply in the port’s Free Trade Zone. Yet shockingly, the MTIB went on to state that the shipping agents had been given a week to sell off the logs and ship them out before any seizure would take place.

Astonishingly, it has since emerged that the shipping agents whose proven illegal activities are being ignored in this case are the same company – TSA Logistics (M) Sdn Bhd – which was handling the illegal ramin seized at Pasir Gudang two months earlier. One of the company’s staff was recorded on hidden camera bragging to EIA/Telapak investigators of how they smuggle timber. When the seizure was announced it was claimed that these shippers had been banned from trading at Pasir Gudang. Yet far from suffering for their actions, they apparently continue to break the law with impunity.

The illegal logs these shippers are moving are owned by a well-known Indonesian timber baron responsible for kidnapping and maiming those who have attempted to stand in his way”, said Arbi Valentinus of Telapak. “Yet clearly the authorities would rather break their own laws than punish the Malaysian timber traders who are profiting from the destruction men like that are wreaking on Indonesia’s forests”.

For further information contact:
Sam Lawson +44 207 354 7978 or +44 7789 776135
Arbi Valentinus +62 811 117143

Profiting from Plunder report and video, VNR and still pictures available.

EDITOR’S NOTES:

  • Indonesia contains ten per cent of the world’s remaining tropical forests. Over 70 per cent of Indonesia’s original frontier forests have been lost.
    Research indicates that around 80 per cent of timber processed in Indonesia comes from illegal sources.
  • Ramin was placed on Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) by Indonesia in August 2001, effectively banning international trade in Indonesian ramin. CITES has 155 country signatories including Malaysia, Indonesia and the United States
  • In 1971, Congress enacted the Pelly Amendment (22 U.S.C. § 1978) to the Fisherman’s Protective Act of 1967 in recognition that international agreements often lack the necessary enforcement provisions to conserve species effectively. Under the Pelly Amendment, the Secretary of the Interior or Secretary of Commerce can determine that nationals of a foreign country, directly or indirectly, are engaging in trade which diminishes the effectiveness of an international environmental program for endangered or threatened species. Once a country is so certified, the President of the United States has 60 days to consider trade sanctions and other measures against that country and inform Congress of his decision.
  • On 18th February 2004 the Environmental Investigation Agency, Defenders of Wildlife, Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice and Orangutan Foundation International wrote to US Secretary of State Colin Powell to seek certification of Malaysia under the Pelly Amendment for undermining international conservation agreements (in this case CITES) to protect orangutans and Ramin.
  • The government of Indonesia banned the export of all logs in October 2001.
  • The government of Malaysia announced a ban on the import of all Indonesian logs in June 2002, and extended the ban to squared logs in May 2003.
  • EIA is an independent environmental non-profit group based in London and Washington DC (www.eia-international.org)
  • Telapak is an independent environmental non-profit group based in Bogor, Indonesia (www.kaoemtelapak.org)

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