Tripped by Bintan’s Bunyu Forests

Suspected of taking a bribe for a forestry project, DPR member Al-Amin Nur Nasution is arrested by police. But the Forestry Minister defends the project.

AT 1am on Wednesday last week two men met in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the Mega Kuningan area, South Jakarta. One was Al-Amin Nasution, a member of the House of Representatives (DPR) of the Forestry and Agriculture Commission, while the other was Azirwan, Regional Secretary of Bintan regency, Riau Islands. Both were seriously engaged in conversation.

They were unaware of the fact that eight Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigating officers were intently spying on both of them.

After chatting in the lobby for about half an hour, Amin and Azirwan quickly entered the elevator to go up to the first floor and disappeared.

The investigators were at first upset about losing their quarry. Luckily a moment later it was known that the two had entered a room next to a cafe. Not a bedroom but a rented conference room.

Already waiting in the room were Azirwan’s assistant and a pretty young lady who was later identified as Eifel. She was wearing a brown sweater and a tight pair of black jeans. The conversation continued there.

At 2am, the eight investigating officers stormed the conference room. The room occupants were shocked. “What’s going on?” asked Amin as quoted by a Tempo source.

An investigator replied, “We’re from the KPK. You are asked to come with us to the office. Here’s your arrest warrant.” After reading the warrant, Amin and the other three persons gave in and were rounded up by the investigating officers.

Rp4 million in cash was confiscated from Amin, and the investigators also confiscated S$33,000 (about Rp220 million) from the room.

While they were being led to the car, another investigator went through Amin’s car parked in the hotel’s basement and found Rp67 million in cash.

On that particular morning the four persons and the evidence were taken to the KPK office not far from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The investigators also confiscated the black BMW belonging to Amin as evidence.

The investigators suspect that the money was given for the successful conversion of the Bunyu protected forest area in Riau into part of the capital city of the Bintan Regency. The KPK is seriously looking into the facts to verify the accuracy of the suspicion.

Amin is temporarily placed in the Jakarta Metro Police detention house while Azirwan in the South Jakarta Police detention house. Eifel was released because she was considered not involved in the case.

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BINTAN was formerly called the Regency of the Riau Islands in Riau Province. When the province was split into two, the regency fell into the territory of the new province, the Province of the Riau Islands.

As the names are alike, people often find it hard to distinguish the Province of Riau Islands from the Regency of Riau Islands. In order not to confuse the two names, the name of Regency of Riau Islands was changed into the Regency of Bintan.

But the capital of Bintan is already used as the capital of the new province. Therefore Bintan had to find a new area which was later found in Bintan Bunyu. But some 6,800 hectares of the future capital are within a protected forest area.

The status of the protected area can be revoked by the government on the recommendation of the DPR’s Forestry and Agriculture Commission. Recommendation for the change in forest status was later issued by the DPR on April 8. Amin, a member of the Commission from the United Development Party (PPP), is suspected of having helped pave the way for the scheme.

The KPK investigators have been probing this case long before the recommendation was given. A Tempo source revealed that the investigation was started in mid-2007 when the change in forest function was being planned.

The investigation started from public reports of fraud in the plan to convert the status of the protected forests.

The months-long probe found a clue when on Thursday a fortnight ago Amin and Azirwan would reportedly meet in Jakarta. But the information was sketchy. When and where the meeting was to take place was unknown. A few days later, detailed information made it to the office of the investigators: the meeting was set for Wednesday morning last week at the Ritz-Carlton.

After obtaining the information, the investigators formed two teams. The first was an advance team assigned to watch the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and all its entry points. They also had to spy on the parking lot up to the hotel lobby. The second team, 40-strong, was assigned to arrest the suspects. After the teams were set up, they worked out their strategy.

On Tuesday last week, eight persons from the advance team were sent to the hotel. They were four from the KPK and four others from the Police Mobile Brigade.

They were posing as guests. Since they had to enter a five-star hotel, the KPK employees going under cover were “those who were regarded as fit to enter the hotel,” said a Tempo source.

After the meeting of the two suspects was confirmed, the advance team contacted the arrest team to enter the hotel immediately. Then the arrest team took action.

Being placed under detention, Amin’s political seat is in jeopardy. Temporarily he has been removed from his position as Chairman of the Jambi Provincial PPP Executive Board. “To enable him to concentrate on the investigation of the case,” said Chozin Chumaidy, deputy head of the party’s central executive board.

Despite being censured by some circles, this party dignitary still defends Amin. Deputy Chairman of the PPP faction in parliament, Lukman Hakim, strongly denied the allegation that the money confiscated from Amin was bribe money. “How come they only found Rp4 million on him,” he said.

As for the Rp67 million found in the car, Lukman believes that the money is a recess fee which Amin had just collected. Lukman is firmly convinced that his colleague did not take a bribe.

Although the issue has caused much controversy, the decision on the change of status of the protected forests is irreversible. Because, said Forestry Minister Malem Sambat Kaban, “Amin’s arrest has nothing to do with the plan for conversion of the protected forests.” The change in status, he added, is made on the basis of an analysis by experts.

Kaban’s plan is severely criticized by a number of NGO figures. “The credibility for the licensing alone is already negative, how come it (the forest function change) is forced to go ahead,” said Elfian Effendie, Executive Director of Greenomics Indonesia.

The bribery allegation befalling Amin, said Rully Sumanda, spokesman of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, shows that something is remiss with the change in the forests’ function. Also, he does not believe that the recommendation issued by the DPR is based on an adequate environmental impact analysis.

Chairman of the Forestry and Agriculture Commission in the DPR, Ishartanto, strongly denied the alleged bribery in the changed function of the protected forests.

The conversion of the function, according to him, is based on a research of a team of experts from various institutions. Therefore, Ishartanto affirmed, “Even though Amin is arrested, there will be no re-deliberation of the converted [forests] function.”

Wenseslaus Manggut, Abdul Manan and Sunudyantoro

Tempo Magazine, No. 33/VIII/15-21 April, 2008

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