Indonesian government files lawsuits against companies that set forest fires

Indonesian government files lawsuits against companies that set forest fires

The Environment Ministry has filed lawsuits against several agroforestry companies suspected of starting forest fires in Sumatra.

The ministry is taking legal action against seven agroforestry companies that allegedly set fire to forest areas in Riau in 2013.

The ministry's law enforcement deputy, Himsar Sirait, said on Friday that the dossiers had been submitted to the Attorney General's Office (AGO).

"We are currently completing the support documentation required by the AGO," Himsar told The Jakarta Post.

The seven companies, which are only referred to by their initials, are palm oil companies PT BHS, PT JJP and PT LIH, and industrial forest companies PT RUJ, PT SRL, PT SPM and PT BBH.

The ministry is also investigating allegations that two palm oil companies, PT TFDI and PT TKWL, and an industrial forest company, PT SGP, started forest fires earlier this year.

Between 2012 and now, the ministry has investigated and filed lawsuits against a number of Sumtra-based plantation companies.

In 2012, the ministry filed lawsuits against PT Kallista Alam and PT Surya Panen Subur (SPS).

Meulaboh District Court found Kallista Alam guilty of burning peatland in the Leuser conservation area in Nagan Raya regency, Aceh, and ordered the firm to pay a fine of US$30.5 million (S$38.8 million).

The ministry, however, lost on Thursday the lawsuit it had brought against PT SPS - for allegedly burning peatland in Tripa Swamp, also in Aceh - which was heard at the South Jakarta District Court.

The ministry is planning to appeal the verdict.

When handing down its verdict, the court maintained that the ministry's lawsuit failed to define the forest fires that were allegedly set by the company.

Moreover, the panel of judges said the ministry should not have acted against the company, as the fires took place in 2009, two years before then-Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf granted the company a permit in 2011.

Himsar rejected claims that the case against the company was weak, arguing that it was similar to that against Kallista Alam.

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