After employees at Melka-run firm sentenced for illegal Amazon deforestation, officials now pursuing the millionaire businessman for yet more suspect practices in Peru
The Peruvian Amazon is being increasingly exposed to illegal deforestation.
Czech-American millionaire Dennis
Melka is in the crosshairs of prosecutors over illegalities at a cacao
plantation he owns as his activities in the Peruvian Amazon come under scrutiny
Illegal deforestation allegations
have plagued the commodities investor since he entered Peru in 2010.
In the intervening years Melka
has amassed a portfolio of 25 companies in the cacao and oil palm sectors,
several of which are accused of destroying primary forest and native lands in
For all the accusations, damning
reports and community protests, prosecutions against The Melka Group have not
materialised – until recently.
In July, an executive
from Tamshi SAC (previously called Cacao del Perú Norte), a subsidiary of
the Cayman-domiciled Melka outfit United Cacao, was jailed
for eight years for his part in illegally clearing 1900 hectares (ha) of
land in the Amazon state of Loreto.
Two other employees were handed
four-year suspended sentences by prosecutor Alberto Yusen Caraza. Civil
reparations of 15 million soles ($4.4m) were also issued.
While the judgement took six
years to materialise, it is considered a major legal precedent in Peru’s fight
against illegal deforestation, one that has emboldened prosecutors to pursue
further linked investigations, including one against Melka himself.
“In Loreto I have the
continuation of this case called ‘Cacao 2’, where now I have Melka as
told Ojo Publico in August.
“In this investigation I have
requested the lifting of bank secrecy and communications, as well as
coordination through the international cooperation office. Efforts are being
made for Melka to come and defend himself in this process.”
Palm oil and cocoa cultivation
alongside illegal gold mining and cocaine production have resulted in
widespread deforestation in Peru. A May
report from non-profit group The Dialogue stated that Peru lost
250,000 hectares of forest in 2018 – its fourth highest annual total recorded.
The specific focus of the
investigation is unclear, but it is the latest in a growing catalogue of controversies
to engulf The Melka Group.
A 2015 investigation by
the Environmental Investigation Agency accused United Cacao of illegally
deforesting almost seven thousand hectares of primary rainforest in the Nueva
Meanwhile, a separate firm owned
by Melka is entangled in a land trafficking scandal in Ucayali – another Amazon
region blighted by deforestation.
Prosecutors believe five
officials inside the agricultural department of Ucayali illegally awarded 128
land parcels to a network of 121 individuals connected to them, who in turn
intended to pass on ownership to Melka’s Ocho Sur SAC oil palm company, among
It is estimated that the deals,
formalised between 2016 and 2018, totalled at least 3,000ha of land. Oil
palm cultivation in Ucayali has
accelerated rapidly with more than 40,000ha of land used for
the crop in 2018, compared to only 6,000ha in 2006.
Isaac Huamán Pérez, former head
of the Regional Agricultural Directorate of Ucayali (DRAU), and Christopher
Hernández Larrañaga, head of DRAU’s Directorate of Legal Physical Sanitation of
Agrarian Property, were arrested by anti-corruption police in December over the
land trafficking allegations.
Indigenous communities have also
taken aim at Melka. The Shipibo community filed
an RSPO complaint against Plantaciones de Pucallpa, a member of the
oil palm sustainability body, in 2015 accusing the firm of clearing 7,000ha of community forest in Ucayali.
In response the company, owned by
Melka, withdrew from the RSPO and transferred its assets to a new entity – Ocho
However, this has not stemmed the
flow of allegations. A new
RSPO complaint filed by the community in 2019 alleges that Peruvian
consumer giant Alicorp and miller OLPESA, both RSPO members, are purchasing
Ocho Sur palm oil “produced through clearance of primary forests and in
violation of the community’s rights over their traditional lands.”
The Alicorp complaint was dismissed by RSPO
in June but the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) – who are working on the
complaints – told Earthsight that they have now filed complaints
against financial institutions that bankroll Alicorp.
Tom Younger of FPP said: “[T]he
community and allies have presented formal complaints to two banks with
significant investments in Alicorp – Norges Bank Investment Management
and Handelsbanken Fonder AB – calling upon them to use their shareholder
influence to pressure Alicorp to stop doing business with the Ocho Sur
plantation and adopt tougher measures to avoid human rights violations and
deforestation in their palm oil supply chain.”