Papua sawmill loses legality certification over allegations of forged permit

Since late 2019, a series of allegations of fake permits involving major certified timber operations has been raised, indicating that illegal logging operations had been officially certified and are legal under Indonesia’s timber verification scheme. These operations are linked to widespread deforestation and corruption in Indonesia. The revocation of Tulen Jayamas Timber Industries' (TJTI) legality certificate in August 2020 was the one of the latest development in this long-running faked permits fiasco surrounding sawmills and palm oil projects.

In December 2020, Mongabay published an extensive review of the latest developments and particularly about the Tulen Jayamas Timber Industries, whose certification was revoked by the licensing authority over allegations of a forged permit, meaning it will not be allowed to export any wood products.

Operator PT Tulen Jayamas Timber Industries (TJTI) had established the sawmill in Boven Digoel district, in Indonesia’s easternmost province of Papua, to process an estimated $6 billion worth of logs anticipated to be cut to make way for the Tanah Merah mega plantation project there. The plantation, earmarked mostly for oil palms, could lead to the clearing of up to 280,000 hectares (692,000 acres) of rainforest — an area nearly twice the size of New York City.

But the multibillion-dollar project has been mired in a litany of controversies, with a 2018 investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project showing how an official in jail issued permits on corruption charges; Indigenous peoples were coerced into relinquishing the rights to their ancestral lands; and the true identities of the individuals behind the project were concealed behind fake nominees and shell companies in tax havens.


In 2019, allegations emerged that fake licenses were issued to some of the project operators. Specifically, the Boven Digoel district investment agency alleged that TJTI’s sawmill's environmental license was fake. Officials sent a letter to TJTI demanding that it stop operating.


Officials from the Papua provincial investment agency also got involved, alleging that permits for the seven concessions in the Tanah Merah project were falsified at a critical stage of the licensing process. While the permits bore the signature of the agency's former head, he has reported in writing that it was forged. The allegations were uncovered in a follow-up investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project.


Following the allegations, Earthsight, a U.K.-based nonprofit investigative organization, found that the sawmill had been certified under the Indonesian government’s timber legality scheme, or SVLK.


The system, accepted by some of the most stringent market regulators for timber legalityincluding the EU, is meant to ensure that all parties in the timber supply chain obtain their wood and timber products from sustainably managed forests and conduct their trading operations under existing laws and regulations. But with the permits underpinning the plantations and the sawmill suspected to be forged, Earthsight sent an inquiry to PT Borneo Wanajaya Indonesia (BWI). This third-party assessor certified the sawmill as SVLK-compliant in 2019.


After being notified of the allegations and the stop-work order, BWI conducted an audit in March 2020. The results confirmed that TJTI’s environmental permit was faked, thus invalidating its compliance with the timber legality standard. The audit resulted in a suspension of the sawmill’s SVLK certificate for three months to allow TJTI to prove that the allegation of a forged environmental permit was not true.

TJTI failed to meet the deadline, and its SVLK certificate was permanently revoked as of July 17.


The revocation of the sawmill’s SVLK certificate means that TJTI cannot legally export timber products, as compliance with the SVLK scheme is mandatory for all timber exports from Indonesia. However, it can still sell timber domestically, even though the sawmill has not begun to operate yet. It’s also not clear whether the government will follow up on the allegations of the forged plantation permits for the seven concessions. Instead, the government has agreed with the companies that have already started operating and cleared forests to redo the entire permit process from the beginning to be allowed to keep running.


Read original article published by Mongabay here