Ayat S. Karokaro, Medan – Police have charged the brother of a top official in Sumatra with clearing a protected forest for a palm oil plantation.
Musa Idishah, better known as Dodi Shah, is the director of a company that police allege conspired with local officials to change the designation of up to 500 hectares (1,236 acres) of forest, thereby allowing it to be destroyed. The forest, in North Sumatra province's Langkat district, was originally designated only for selective logging.
Idishah is the younger brother of Musa Rajekshah, the deputy governor of North Sumatra and the previous director of the company at the center of the case, PT Anugerah Langkat Makmur (ALAM).
Police brought Idishah in for questioning on Jan. 31 and subsequently charged him with violations of the forestry, plantations, and environmental protection acts. They released him from custody the following day but have barred him from leaving the country pending the investigation. Police also said they planned to continue questioning everyone linked to the case, including Rajekshah.
Idishah and Rajekshah are nephews of Rahmat Shah, the head of the Indonesian Zoo Association and a well-known big-game hunter in Asia.
Shortly before the gubernatorial election that swept him to power last year, Rajekshah was linked to another corruption case. He was questioned as a witness by the country's anti-graft agency, the KPK, in a corruption case centering on bribes paid by a previous governor, Gatot Pujo Nugroho, to the provincial legislature to approve the provincial budget. (Gatot was in 2017 convicted and sentenced to four years in jail in that case.).
Abdon Nababan, a prominent indigenous rights activist who ran against Rajekshah's ticket in the 2018 vote, told Mongabay that the election that was marred with corruption involving plantation companies.
Some 8,000 square kilometers (3,100 square miles) of privately held plantations in North Sumatra, much of them oil palm, are located in protected forests that are supposed to be off-limits to commercial agriculture, according to government data.
Throughout the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo, the clearing of forests for oil palm plantations has seen the country rival Brazil for the sheer volume of deforestation. An analysis by WWF has found that Sumatra lost 56 percent of its forest cover – an area spanning 140,000 square kilometers (54,000 square miles), or greater than Indonesia's main island of Java – since 1985.