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Malaysia is accused of illegally selling millions of dollars of Indonesian hardwood


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Date: 2020-02-05

Source: Associated Press

Thursday, February 05, 2020

By Lely T. Djuhari, Associated Press

JAKARTA, Indonesia Baby cribs, pictures frames, and many consumer items destined for Western markets are made from illegally logged Indonesian timber, which is smuggled across the border into Malaysia, environmentalist groups said Wednesday.

Millions of dollars worth of ramin a blond-colored, endangered species of tropical hardwood is smuggled into Malaysia, where dealers slap on fake labels describing the wood as "Malaysian origin," said the U.S.-based Environmental Investigation Agency and the local group Telapak.

"It's beyond belief that the Indonesian and Malaysian authorities are unaware of this," said Telapak's Hapsoro, who like many Indonesians, uses a single name. "Wholesale laundering through Malaysia is happening in front of their noses at such an unprecedented rate."

Indonesia banned the sale of ramin in 2001, listing it in the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to curb the illegal trading.

Malaysia is also a signatory of CITES but took exception to the clause concerning ramin.

The smuggling uncovered by EIA and Telapak is more than twice the amount of ramin that Malaysia can produce annually, Hapsoro said.

Indonesia acknowledges that a lack of law enforcement and rampant official corruption are major causes of illegal logging, said Widagdo, a senior forestry ministry official. "It's a huge problem," he said.

Officials from Malaysia, the largest exporter of tropical wood in the world, were not immediately available for comment.

In a report titled "Profiting from Plunder How Malaysia Smuggles Endangered Wood," the activists said they obtained information describing how Indonesian timber "kingpins" avoid prosecution because they enjoy the support of "members of the political and military elite."

Posing as buyers during their two-year investigation into the illegal trade, activists said they staked out harbors, border checkpoints, and timber warehouses and secretly filmed Malaysian timber dealers at work.

Armed with fake certificates, the dealers ship the wood to China where it is turned into baby cribs, picture frames, wooden blinds, decorative moldings, and pool cues, activists said.

The environmentalists warned consumers in the United States, the European Union, and Japan, who are pumping demand for the hardwood, to be wary of all goods made from ramin because dealers and manufacturers routinely post labels with false information.

Ramin is found in the rapidly dwindling peat-swamp forests of Indonesia and Malaysia the natural habitat of many rare plants and animals. Asia's only great ape, the orangutan, is in danger of extinction because its forests are being plundered.

Many environmentalists predict the complete disappearance of hardwood forests in Indonesia, where no serious replanting program has been put into effect to replace the thousands of acres of timber destroyed yearly by illegal loggers.

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