Malaysian plantation managers on travel ban over haze probe

People look around as buildings downtown are engulfed by haze, from a pedestrian overpass in Beijing, October 22, 2013. — Reuters pic
People look around as buildings downtown are engulfed by haze, from a pedestrian overpass in Beijing, October 22, 2013. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 26 — Indonesian authorities have confirmed that two Malaysian plantation managers have been barred from leaving the republic, pending investigations into their role in the illegal fires that blanketed Singapore and Malaysia with hazardous smog recently.

According to international business newspaper The Wall Street Journal, the duo are managers of PT Adei Plantation and Industry, a subsidiary of Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd, said to be Malaysia’s third-largest palm oil planter.

Quoting Pekanbaru immigration chief Amran Aris, the paper named the men as Tan Kei Yoong and Danesuvaran KR Singam.

Amran said his office has placed a six-month travel ban on the two, on instructions from local police, WSJ reported.

In July this year, Malaysian plantation concessions in Indonesia had denied any involvement in the slash-and-burn farming approach that was blamed for causing the decades-old haze problem in the region.

The denial, according to Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel, had come after local authorities threatened to file charges against PT Adei Plantatations for the forest fires in June.

“They have denied and said they adhere to (the) zero burning (policy),” Palanivel told reporters after the 15th meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on trans-boundary haze pollution here on July 17.

The minister added that Sime Derby’s deputy chief executive officer had also given the Indonesian government the green light to retake some of its fire-prone land to prevent wild fires.

“They also promised to educate farmers farming on their land on open burning,” he said.

The Indonesian police had at the time said they were also investigating four other companies for suspected involvement in the fires but did not identify them The republic’s environment ministry in June named eight Southeast Asian companies as possible suspects.

KL Kepong had also denied wrongdoing, saying it has a zero-burning policy and the fires were outside its concessions.

An individual found guilty of starting a forest fire can face a jail term of up to 10 years and fines of up to 10 billion rupiah (RM318,655).

Firms found guilty of the offence can also have their profits seized, operations shut down and be sued for damages.

An investigation by industry body, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), found no evidence that KL Kepong, a member of the group, was responsible for the fires, a spokesman said.

“The RSPO has cleared KL Kepong of this issue. We have made our statements to the relevant parties and we stand by our statements,” said Roy Lim, the company’s plantations director.

“Looking again at the satellite data, the hot spots are all outside our territory.”

The satellite mapping data, provided to the RSPO by KL Kepong, show Adei concessions cover around 14,900 hectares. Of that total, 800 hectares are controlled by local community members.

More than a dozen people had been arrested for lighting fires, police said. But it was unclear if they were employees of any of the eight named companies or independent farmers.

Some farmers illegally clear land using “slash and burn” techniques during the dry season from June to September.