Family of North Sumatra Deputy Governor implicated in illegal conversion of protected forests for oil palm

13.02.2019

PT Alam is accused of illegally converting up to 500 hectares of protected forests in North Sumatra into oil palm plantations. Photo: Ayat S. Karokaro / Mongabay Indonesia

The North Sumatra Regional Police has named Musa Idishah, better known as Dodi Shah, as a suspect in a case of illegal deforestation of protected areas for oil palm cultivation.

Dodi Shah is the younger brother of Musa Rajekshah, Deputy Governor of North Sumatra, an Indonesian province in Sumatra island.

Dodi is the head of PT Anugerah Langkat Makmur (PT ALAM), the company accused of illegally converting up to 500 hectares (ha) of protected forests in North Sumatra into oil palm plantations.

At the end of January, Dodi was taken for questioning by the police after ignoring two summons to present himself. He has not yet been arrested, as the North Sumatra police does not consider him to be a flight risk.

Police have seized computers, financial reports, internal memos and other documents from PT ALAM’s offices and carried out a search of Dodi’s residence in Medan, North Sumatra’s capital city. Fire arms and ammunition, for which Dodi claims to have permits, have also been seized.

PT ALAM’s plantations in question are located in Sei Lepan, West Brandan and Besitang, all districts of Langkat Regency, North Sumatra.

Dodi could be charged under laws 18/2013 (Prevention and Eradication of Forest Destruction), 39/2014 (Plantations) and 32/2009 (Environmental Protection and Management). If convicted, he could face up to eight years in prison.

In early February, Musa Rajekshah, who was once a director at PT ALAM, was questioned by police for nine hours. Helen Purba, head of North Sumatra Forestry Service, was also summoned for questioning. Both have only been named as witnesses so far.

Dodi’s father, Anif Shah, is a well-known businessman in North Sumatra. The family is said to control over 30,000ha of oil palm plantations in the provinces of North Sumatra and Riau.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), a conservation NGO, has welcomed the investigation but expressed concern that Dodi has not been arrested and said that all cases of illegal forest clearing in the province must be thoroughly investigated.

The North Sumatra police claims to have investigated 12 companies since 2012 over alleged illegal deforestation of protected areas for oil palm cultivation in the province.

Mongabay has reported that around 8,000 square kilometres of mostly oil palm plantations are located in protected forests in North Sumatra “that are supposed to be off-limits to commercial agriculture.”

In recent months, The Gecko Project, established by Earthsight in partnership with Mongabay, has shed light on the corruption driving land deals and the destruction of tropical rainforests in Indonesia.

In its latest instalment, The Secret Deal to Destroy Paradise, the Gecko Project has showed how permits for the giant Tanah Merah oil palm plantation in Papua were issued from a prison cell by a politician serving a sentence on unrelated corruption charges.

The article exposed the high levels of secrecy surrounding the licensing process and the identities of the investors behind the project. The Tanah Merah plantation – which could span 2,800 square kilometres once fully developed – falls on the land of indigenous people, whose rights have been roundly ignored.

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