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Everyone who makes films has to be an athlete to a certain degree because cinema does not come from abstract academic thinking; it comes from your knees and thighs” – film-maker and documentarian Werner Herzog.

On Tuesday, September 6, three powerful new films chronicling EIA’s recent undercover investigations into timber smuggling, the ivory trade and whaling will make their world debut in the USA on Nat Geo Wild.

Paul Redman and Clare Perry filming in a Japanese fish market (c) EIA

Broadcast under the collective banner of Crimes Against Nature, Blood Ivory depicts the brutal horror of elephant poaching in Kenya and black market trade in the marketplaces of Hong Kong and China; Making a Killing exposes Iceland’s hunting of endangered fin whales to package and sell for consumption in Japan; and Chainsaw Massacre uncovers the Vietnamese army’s involvement in the widespread smuggling of timber from neighbouring Laos.

Each film follows seasoned EIA investigators in the field as they methodically piece together the clues of wildlife and forest crime and follow evidence trails leading to corrupt officialdom, organised criminal syndicates and grasping businessmen. Along the way, viewers will share the setbacks and successes in films rich with imagery both startling and haunting.

What they won’t see, and possibly won’t suspect, is the long year of preparations and often physically and emotionally demanding work behind the scenes to get three one-hour films in the can.

The project effectively began in 2009, following EIA’s tiger team in China and Nepal for a pilot film eventually broadcast early last year on Nat Geo Wild as Eco Crime Investigators – Inside the Tiger Trade.

The broadcast, first in the USA and subsequently worldwide (and it’s still in heavy rotation), was such a success that further programmes were commissioned.

On location in Kenya with Mary Rice and Dave Currey (c) EIA

Initial meetings with the London-based production company hired by Nat Geo to make the films focused on the likely scope of the three investigations, the probable shooting times and budget requirements for each, and a loose schedule around which investigators would have to fit all their usual campaign work and commitments.

It was in October 2010, when filming was concluded in Iceland and underway in Vietnam, that I was brought onboard as Project Co-ordinator; you could draw up a job description for the role which might run to several sides of A4, or you could just as accurately say my primary function was to help ease the process along as required.

Both EIA and the production company shared the same goal – to make the best programmes possible; naturally, both came at it with different considerations to the fore. The nature of conducting investigations in the field is that you never know what’s going to turn up and where it might lead; the nature of film-making is that you have to satisfy those commissioning the venture that they’re going to end up with a solid narrative arc and a substantial conclusion, preferably before shooting begins.

From the word ‘go’, EIA was adamant that its investigators would not serve as props, nor would they be mouthpieces for scripted lines which might in any way reflect poorly or inaccurately on the organisation, its methodology or its invaluable work. At the same time, we accepted that the film-makers needed to distil often-complex issues in a way that was accurate and wouldn’t leave viewers scratching their collective brows and reaching for the remote control. Looking at the finished products (and I believe I must have done so a score of times for each!), I think it’s fair to say this was achieved remarkably well.

In the field was where problems could most easily arise as directors fretted that they wouldn’t get the key shots they needed within the timeframe allowed, or when they were debriefing an investigator following an emotionally exhausting undercover filming session and needed the same kind of projected energy on take seven as was given the first time around. But our investigators are nothing if not troopers – and on many occasions during this project they were fixers and guides too – and the passion they have for their various campaigns all but radiates from the screen.

Julian Newman interviewed during filming in Laos (c) EIA

When location filming concluded by late March, it remained to fine-tune the narratives, film interviews with the key campaigners and nail down the voice-over and visual inserts such as animated maps..

With security the key consideration for EIA, this was also the time for me to go through each film with a fine toothcomb and ensure that the identity of our undercover Chinese investigator was protected at all times; you’d be amazed at how often somebody’s features can be fleetingly reflected in background mirrors and table tops.

All that remains now is for you to watch the films, and help EIA by spreading the word for others to do the same.

* After the US premiere on Tuesday, the three programmes are due to be broadcast on Nat Geo Wild in other territories, including the UK, later this year – watch our website and blog for details as we learn them.

Paul Newman, Press OfficerPaul Newman

Press Officer

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Logging the Moratorium Zone in Indonesia’s REDD+ Pilot Province

Yesterday, EIA and Telapak released a new briefing paper – Caught REDD Handed- exposing illegal deforestation in Indonesia.

In summary, the briefing exposed how, on the very day Indonesia’s president signed a new moratorium on forest exploitation in areas of peatland and primary forest across Indonesia, EIA and Telapak were filming a Malaysian owned plantation company actively clearing about 5,000 hectares of it in the REDD+ Pilot Province, Central Kalimantan. The moratorium was breached on day one – hardly a good sign for what is already a weak moratorium.

Excavator clearing forest in PT Menteng area May 2011

Investing in Criminal Deforestation

Worse still, EIA’s research also reveals that Norway, Indonesia’s biggest REDD+ donor, stands to profit from the illegal deforestation of moratorium land through the $41.5 million of shares the country’s pension fund holds in the Malaysian company Kuala Lumpur Kepong. This is despite both the moratorium and the REDD+ Pilot Province being cornerstones of a US$ 1 billion Letter of Intent (LoI) on REDD+ between the two countries. Jago’s previous blog on the moratorium

The briefing also reveals how this is not Norway’s only investment in deforestation in Indonesia. EIA’s research reveals that during 2010, Norway’s portfolio of logging and plantations investments had increased in value from $437 million to $678 million, with $145 of this increase being profits to Norway from increased share values.

EIA has repeatedly warned Norway that its Pension Fund is in danger of profiting from the violation of the forests of Indonesia, but, it seems, to no avail. Indeed, as the briefing explains, Norway has actually put more money into, and made more money from deforesting industries in Indonesia and its neighbouring countries over the year, than it has granted to Indonesia under the Letter of Intent on REDD+.

Despite the whole idea of REDD+ being to reverse the structure of financial incentives – from those that encourage deforestation to those that encourage forest protection, the case of Norway’s pension fund reveals how the financial incentives in the forestry sector remain perverse.

Log in land cleared by PT Menteng, May 2011

EIA and Telapak have submitted the briefing to the Indonesian and Norwegian authorities, in the hope that both parties might prevent the moratorium being swept aside by realities in crime riddled Central Kalimantan.

While Indonesia needs to deliver on its pledges to clean up crime, corruption and illegal plantations in Central Kalimantan and nationwide, Norway’s finance ministry needs to get its pension fund REDD Ready by divesting from companies that drive the very deforestation Norway is hoping to see reduce in Indonesia.

For further information on the breach of the moratorium, see the following resources:

EIA/Telapak Press Release in Englishand Bahasa Indonesia

Caught REDD Handed Briefing in English& Bahasa Indonesia

EIA interviewed on Radio Australia

News coverage on Reuters & Mongabay, and in REDD Montor

 

Jago Wadley

Senior Campaigner

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We always need connections…paperwork not important once you have connections, paperwork not important, they are only on paper…they can always be manipulated…”

- Singapore ozone-depleting substances (ODS) dealer

 When it comes to getting insights into what criminals think, EIA and our partners are in a pretty enviable position.

Our undercover investigators spend weeks at a time in the field, often in remote and dangerous places, rubbing shoulders with environmental criminals. Getting to know these people and their worlds. Gathering intelligence, developing leads, responding to opportunities and threats as they come up. Click here to read a previous blog by one of our investigators.

In the process, when our undercover investigators speak one-on-one with traders, create bonds, convince them of their authenticity…that in itself generates a wealth of information about how the illegal trade is conducted.

Who’s buying, who’s selling, what tricks to use to evade detection, and what the stakes are (or are not…) if you get caught.

 “…the government regulation will be avoided. Anyway, you are taking the small risk to earn big profits.”

- Chinese ODS import/exporter

Often, the information gained doesn’t just implicate the trader who’s spilling the beans. The web of complicity can extend to police contacts who should be enforcing the law – but instead tip off the traders before inspections take place; dodgy Customs contacts who’ll “facilitate” the safe passage of a shipment…even government officials have been directly implicated in the illegal trade.

Of course there are people who’ll shake their heads and say, “That’s a criminal you’re talking to. You can’t believe what they say!”

 “I think it’s better if you know who I am. I’m a law officer, I’m a policeman. Beside a policeman, I am also a businessman.”

- Policeman (and merbau smuggler) in Indonesia

 EIA uses specialist investigators. Cover is carefully planned, so it’s totally convincing.

Questions are open, so the traders talk of their own volition.

And verification is crucial. In presenting often explosive investigation findings, things have to be water-tight.

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I suppose that if you must conduct your business from the shadows, when you do find someone you trust, if might feel good to talk. From relief in shared complicity, from your ego being flattered, or to assure your new “customer” that they’re in safe hands – that you’re the only one to deal with, and you know your trade well.

Of course you’re not to know that this new “friend” is actually undercover EIA.

But it’s often precisely because these people are criminals that we should at least listen to what they say – take it as a starting point from where to investigate further. Whilst they can be excellent at describing their activities, they’ll often highlight the factors that make it all too easy for them to continue.

“…(Customs) need money also… all the people still need money. It goes up to the top.”

- Merbau dealer in Indonesia

It’s been said before, but anyway…crime is good at self-preservation. A criminal’s response to enforcement activity (like the interception of cargo) will be to adapt, necessarily at the drop of a hat. What was true of smuggling methods a year ago may since have been abandoned in favour of a different way of doing things. Likewise, as we’ve shown, the end markets can change. For investigators, rather than labouring under misconceptions and coming up short, keeping up to date with these changes is essential.

And while stats can give you an overview and insights, they can’t paint a picture the way a trader does when he describes the “many hands” through which a tiger skin passes – from when it’s skinned from the carcass in India and travels thousands of miles north into China.

But if enforcement agencies don’t see the value in conducting covert operations and engaging traders, how is anyone – including policy makers – except the criminals to know how things really work?

In 2009, traders voiced anticipation at the forthcoming Chinese Year of the Tiger: more demand for tiger skin = higher profits. Tasteless, frightening, but EIA listened. With the species already on the brink, identifying additional, future threats is crucial.

We recommend enforcement agencies speak to one another, share information, and collaborate – both domestically and internationally.

But enforcement agencies might also speak to criminals. Not only when a suspect is in custody, but proactively go out into the field, task covert investigations, dig deep, and hear what these people have to say. In terms of understanding the illegal trade – and saving species – the information gained can be gold dust.

The same information can also, and probably will, reveal uncomfortable truths. But if those truths are too hard to face, or believed to be insurmountable…well then forests, tigers, elephants – all of us – might as well accept defeat.

Charlotte Davies, Intelligence Analyst

Charlotte Davies

Intelligence Analyst

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Saving the world's forests, EIA has been working on this campaign for over 10 years. Credit EIA.

Saving the worlds forests, EIA has been working on this campaign for over 10 years.

Sitting on the Eurostar, once again on my way to Brussels and this time for what should be a defining moment for our campaign against illegal logging, I have been thinking about the amount of time I have spent in meetings and how much I have learned over the years about getting legislation through the European Union.  

As campaigners, we’re supposed to be flexible enough to take whatever is thrown at us, and turn complicated and over-talked issues into something anyone can understand. But nothing prepared me for what I had to deal with when I first went to Brussels. I have sat through meetings where I have literally not understood a single thing that has been said to me as to why something could not possibly happen. This, I have now learned, is the whole idea. A lot of governments I have lobbied over the years have used a similar practice and, drawing on that experience, I decided that if we wanted something to go through and if we couldn’t do it directly, then we would go over, under and around ’the problem’ in our own way.

I remember the first time I was invited to speak to a hearing on forestry issues, which at that time did not have illegal logging issues on the top of its agenda but instead focused on forest issues that were going nowhere. I had been invited by Europe-based NGO’s to talk about our campaign to a large group of Commission representatives from about five different Directorates. (Ministries).  I had no idea what I was walking into. The Commission was keeping everyone focused on some issue that was going around in circles and seemed totally pointless to me, but I was told “this is a consultation and it’s formal, so we need to ensure what we are saying goes on the record”. I sat there with huge admiration for my colleagues as they continued to make their point to the grey suits sitting on a panel in front of us in an enormously large room. Then it was my turn.

EIA have been in Brussels finalising the VPA between Indonesia & the EU

EIA have been in Brussels finalising the VPA between Indonesia & the EU

“Europe has made a lot of money from illegal logging and the illegal trade in timber for so long now that it’s become the norm.” I said. “Traders and importers know who the bad guys are. Our desire for cheap tropical timber means that we’re fuelling corruption, ensuring the middle men make all the money and there’s no chance for anyone wanting to work legally, let alone sustainably. It’s ensuring that those who do the right thing are unable to work with a level playing field and only those who have connections are able to make real profits. Producer countries are losing millions in lost state revenue and we’re creating a new breed of timber barons. Let me tell you how this works in the case of Indonesia.”

“Excuse me, but this is not on the agenda,” said a grey suit.

“Really? I am going to continue because it should be on your agenda.”

And I did. Our main objective in Europewas to have a law that would make it an offence to supply and sell illegally sourced timber. With illegal logging rampant in Indonesia at that time, the EU needed to take some responsibility. It sounded so simple.

Yesterday, EIA and Telapak held a debriefing on the conclusion of an accord between Indonesia and the EU called a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA).

Indonesia has agreed to implement a credible timber licensing scheme to eliminate illegally produced timber in its trade with the EU. Although this is a milestone for Indonesia, it is the way this agreement was reached that is so extraordinary. Read more about the new VPA.

Over the years, the divide between stakeholders was huge. But yesterday, as we spoke of the journey we have all taken to get to this point, emotions ran high. Compared to the meeting I first went to in Europe all those years ago, this was something entirely different and the feeling of ownership from everyone made the difference.

Faith Doherty

Faith Doherty

Senior Campaigner

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Okay. I’m going to spare you all the ubiquitous yew-turn jokes and get right on with it. After a massive public campaign, the Government has wisely scrapped its plans to privatise and sell off England’s public forests. There were three strands to this and they have backed down on all of them. The consultation on selling the entire 258,000 hectare estate has been scrapped. The plan to quickly sell 15% of the estate (the legal maximum without changes to the law) is on hold, and the clauses in the Public Bodies Bill that would allow the sale of the whole thing have been removed.

It’s a rout.

It’s great news and I congratulate them on seeing sense.

Oak tree Snowdonia - Credit Jason Cheng

Does this mean that England’s forests are now safe and happy? Not quite. The immediate danger has passed but there are a few things to keep our eyes on. First, there is going to be a Commission set up to look into the whole forestry question. This will include the forestry industry and some big NGOs. Yet despite repeated questioning the Minister responsible refused to confirm that it would be held in public and that grass-roots campaigners would be included.

New style of campaigning

Why does this matter so much? Well, the big NGOs were pretty slow and ambiguous on this whole thing, and many have potential conflicts of interest as large landowners. Also, this was not a victory for established NGOs, but a victory for the new style of campaigning – fluid, fast and decentralised. A campaign made up of local groups, loose affinities and co-ordinated through on-line media. EIA made its views clear and we did a little behind the scenes, but this was run largely by ad-hoc groups. The brilliant 38 Degrees helped start the ball rolling but no one outfit can claim the result. It is a new and exciting world for the campaigner.

So we are going to have an enquiry. We will need to watch closely to make sure it doesn’t come up with something just as bad as the abandoned plans.

UK flora and fauna. Credit Jason Cheng

UK flora and fauna. Credit Jason Cheng

But we also need to be positive. We have an impoverished environment in this part of the world, beautiful though it is. We need to improve it. England and the rest of the UK, needs wilder, larger and more biodiverse forests. We need some that are worked for timber and some that are simply left alone for nature to decide what happens. This is a golden opportunity to start having those debates and working out how we can build a better future, for people and wildlife.

EIA already attends many of the meetings and grouping where these things are discussed and we will do what we can to influence the outcome!

Beavers in Scotland

On the subject of British wildness, I thought you might be interested to see this Facebook Groups about wild beavers living free in Scotland. They are escapees and are being rounded up, although they do appear to be a native species. EIA does not have an ‘official’ position on this, but you can check it out and make up your own minds!

EIA Campaigner

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Things are starting to slow down here at HQ, we’re down to just 6 people in the office! Looking back, 2010 has been a very eventful year. I have split this blog in two, firstly, I will review the year and highlight EIA’s achievements. Secondly, and you can find the second part here, we share the fantastic things you have been doing too.

Thank you to everybody who has supported us over the last 12 months, here are just some of our successes this year.

  • Copyright EIA/Mary RiceEIA played a crucial role in ensuring proposals by Tanzania and Zambia to sell 112 tonnes of stockpiled ivory through CITES failed.Despite limited resources we were able to carry out investigations in both countries, gathering irrefutable evidence that levels of poaching are much higher than reported. We published a report and video ‘Open Season’ and presented this evidence at CITES. EIA was the only voice to speak out against the real situation in Zambia and thanks to us both proposals were rejected. Read what Mary had to say.
  • New Chilling Facts Survey, coming soon.We provided evidence to ensure nine leading UK supermarkets reduced their use of climate changing HFCs following our second ‘Chilling Facts’ survey in February.
  • Once again EIA was at the forefront of protecting whales at the IWC. In June, proposals by Japan, Iceland and Norway to be allowed new commercial catch quotas threatened to seriously undermine the 24-year moratorium on whaling. Thankfully, our strenuous lobbying helped to stop them.

  • Copyright EIA/TelepakOur forest team had a major success as the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of banning imports of illegally logged timber and wood products. This follows the success of EIA’s efforts in the US to introduce a ban in 2008. It is a testament to EIA’s tenacity and commitment that after 10 years of campaigning, the world’s two largest markets for wood products, have now shut the door on imports of stolen timber. Read on.

  • Working with our Indonesian partners we highlighted the illegal exploits of timber barons Ricky Gunawan and Hengky Gosal in a damning report: ‘Rogue Traders: The Murky Business of Merbau Timber Smuggling in Indonesia’. The report received huge coverage, putting Gosal uncomfortably in the spotlight. Read Julian’s reaction.
  • Copyright istock.The Year of the Tiger made history as the highest level political meeting ever held for a single species in St Petersburg, at the International Tiger Forum. Debbie Banks and Alasdair Cameron were invited to the Forum, as experts in the field of illegal trade and enforcement in consumer countries. $330 million was pledged and Leonardo di Caprio donated $1 million, all the press were there. Read Debbie’s comments following the forum.

  • Our award-winning documentary Inside: The Tiger Trade continues to be broadcast internationally and is raising our profile telling the rest of the world how we work. Watch out for more documentaries next year. See the trailer here.

None of this would have been possible without your support – Thank you.

Our blog is in its 5th month and I am sure you will agree, it has gone from strength to strength. We have had nearly 5000 visits in that time and by far our most popular post has been this one. Thank you to all the campaigners to have contributed and all of you who have made comments.

I’ll leave you with the words of Louie Psihoyos, director of Oscar-winning documentary, The Cove

The Cove. Credit - thecovemovie.com“EIA is an amazing example of a small group of individuals using great science and passion to help save the environment … in the environmental movement, EIA is the equivalent of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

From everyone at EIA, Seasons Greetings and thank you once again.

Signing out for 2010,

Sophia Cheng

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Apologies for the incorrect link to Jago’s post, you can find the actual article here.

Sorry for any inconvenience caused

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Illegal logging copyright EIATen years ago when EIA and our Indonesian partners Telapak started to investigate illegal logging and all the concerns that this environmental crime brings, an issue that kept coming up was the role of civil society and how to ensure our voices were heard.

We have all taken risks investigating what goes on in the forests and some of our partners live with that risk every single day. Our exposure of timber barons and the corruption that allows them to operate without penalties, have been the trademark of the EIA /Telapak partnership.

In Indonesia a few years ago, I remember being in a meeting with some Indonesian officials from the Ministry of Forestry and asking why nothing was being done to formally investigate a person of interest, even with a dossier of evidence sitting on the table in front of us. His response was to ask if we could investigate further, “find out more” he said, “We need more information”.

I was absolutely furious, here was someone who had the power, had the mandate and had the resources to investigate arrest and ensure some judicial proceeding occurred no matter how corrupt. We were taking huge risks with no protection and no mandate, to ensure any proceedings went ahead. What made this even worse was that the international community had always relied on the verification of commercial activities within the forests to foreign companies. Which meant that those with vested interests, were monitoring themselves. Our evidence was considered at times but we had no avenue to ensure action was taken. Until now.

Meeting in JakartaTwo weeks ago I attended a meeting organised by EIA and Telapak to talk about the formal role of civil society in the independent monitoring of Indonesia’s forests. This was a crucial meeting and at a critical time, as Indonesia had in September enacted a new law that outlines the legality system of the trade in timber and wood products from Indonesia. This law is also applicable to domestic consumption.  It has taken a long time to get this law out there but the process that Indonesia took was open and inclusive.  Civil society were included and in fact at times needed, due to a lack of capacity within the government. And this has continued, so that civil society is now formally part of the independent monitoring of Indonesia’s forests. Instead of being outside the loop, we’re right in there and will have to operate within the system of this new law.  We all recognise that this law is not perfect. In fact, some people think you can drive a logging truck through it!  But it’s a start and something we intend to build on.

Our meeting, held in Jakarta, was to ensure a commitment from all the groups, individuals and indigenous communities to be part of the Independent Monitoring system that is part of the new law.  Meeting in Jakarta just last week After a day of presentations by officials from both the Indonesian government and the European Union, our meeting went in to an intense 2 day discussion of the details and work plans needed for this to work.   People from all over Indonesia were represented at this meeting, so when we all came together at the end of the smaller group discussions, it was clear that everyone was completely committed to ensuring this would work.  People were placed into responsible positions, work plans from each region were presented and from that, a new network was formed.

Choosing the name for this was an amazing time with everyone involved in throwing a name or names into the mix. And what a result! A new network was born. The Independent Forest Monitoring Network or in Indonesian Jaringan Pemantau Independen Kehutanan (JIPIK).

After all the years of being outside the system and having to rely on companies monitoring themselves, JIPIK is there to be the voice for civil society.  And now the real work begins. Our investigations will continue but this time we have an avenue for that information to be formally recognised and acted on.

 

Faith Doherty

Faith Doherty

 

Faith Doherty

EIA Campaigner

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Copyright EIA/TelepakOther good news from Indonesia in the past month relates to timber legality and trade. On the 1st September, Indonesia’s SVLK (Timber Legality Verification System) came into force, having been passed by a Minister of Forestry Regulation in 2009 (No P.38/Menhut-II/2009). Telapak have been centrally involved in the development of this standard over the years, with our joint exposes of illegal logging and timber smuggling helping develop the political and commercial space required to enact it.

While the SVLK is mandatory for all timber producers and traders in Indonesia, it is also the basis of a timber licensing system that will be a central plank of a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) between Indonesia and the European Union, which is now expected to be signed by the end of this year. VPAs are key elements of the European Commission’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) initiative, the EU’s core policy on illegal logging and trade.

This follows the passage of the European Illegal Timber Regulation in June this year, which will prohibit the placement of illegal timber from countries such as Indonesia on the EU market. The EU law explicitly exempts VPA-licensed timber from the Due Diligence requirements of the regulation, presenting clear incentives for Indonesia and other countries to agree a VPA.

Such developments have been key strategic goals of EIA’s forests campaign, and are testament to the role EIA and Telapak have played in this important issue for over a decade.

But we can’t rest on our laurels.

Next week, EIA and Telapak are organising and hosting a National Indonesian Civil Society Conference on the new legality standard, in Jakarta, where we hope to facilitate the establishment a network of local and national NGOs and community groups to monitor the implementation of the standard – just in case the authorities don’t do so properly themselves.

Why not trust the authorities? One reason is that one of the recently government accredited “auditors” set to certify supply chains for compliance with the legality standard, PT Sucofindo, featured in our latest timber smuggling expose – Rogue Traders – after staff were found to have accepted bribes to allow logs to be smuggled out of the country in containers. Sometime you have to watch the watchmen, and audit the auditors…

Faith Doherty will be updating you on how the conference goes in the not too distant future, so watch this space…

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“I’ve been working in Indonesia for over a decade on EIA’s illegal logging campaign. Despite best intentions my Indonesian language skills stubbornly refuse to progress beyond what I call “taxi driver” level; the ability to chat about the weather, food, football and even a bit of politics while stuck in taxis. It comes in very useful when snarled up in Jakarta’s notorious traffic. One of the first words I ever learned in Indonesian was macet or traffic jam, and varieties such as macet total or gridlock.

I’ve always found good taxi drivers to be an indispensable asset when carrying out an investigation in a strange foreign city, where local knowledge can be vital. Chatting with drivers can also give a quick insight into the pulse of a nation; the issues of most concern to the locals.

Over the last few years on trips to Jakarta the word on the lips of most of the drivers I have encountered is korupsi - corruption. Drivers rail against the country’s endemic corruption; how it keeps the bulk of the population in poverty while a small elite prospers and how it leads to the squander of Indonesia’s natural resources. On occasion, I’ve even witnessed the reasons behind the anger, as my taxi driver is shaken down by the traffic police for a real or imagined offence.

Right now Indonesia is in the midst of a crucial  struggle to tame the corruption which infects every aspect of public life. Current President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono came into office on an anti-corruption ticket and the main agency leading the charge has been the Corruption Eradication Commission or KPK. Until 2009 the KPK was making headway, with its clever use of technology such as wiretaps and special courts to try corruption suspects. But when it started going after members of parliament, police and prosecutors (all viewed by the Indonesian public as some of the most corrupt institutions in the country), the dark forces kicked back.

First some members of parliament tried to shut down the special anti-corruption court. Then the police entered the fray. When the KPK had the temerity to wiretap a senior police officer suspected on involvement in banking fraud, the police hit back with allegations that two KPK directors had taken bribes to dismiss a case involving kickbacks paid to secure a lucrative radio systems contract for the country’s Ministry of Forestry. The battle between the police and KPK became known as the crocodiles versus the gekkos and galvanised the public into an effective Facebook campaign to defend the KPK. It culminated in the live television transmission of court proceedings where wiretaps exonerating the KPK were played.

Yet the battle is far from won. In July, the courageous news magazine Tempo published details of senior police officers who held huge sums in their bank accounts. Copies of the magazine mysteriously disappeared from newsstands and an activist from Indonesia Corruption Watch, which had been monitoring police corruption, was badly beaten by unknown assailants.

Forced into a corner the police were compelled to respond. The line they came up with was that of 23 suspicious accounts held by officers, all apart form two involved wealth gained through legitimate business interests, outside of their full-time job in the police, apparently. One of the remaining two accounts was held by an officer based in Papua, called Martin Reno. The police explained that he had already been cleared in court in 2006. EIA knows the Reno case well. I have seen documents detailing a series of payments made to Reno’s bank account by two companies involved in illegal logging in Papua; I’ve even observed his luxurious house in Bali, although I never had chance to track down his portfolio of business investments in Papua and properties in Jakarta. As EIA reported in 2007 in its report The Thousand-Headed Snake, Reno’s acquittal was a classis home town court verdict, with the judge dismissing the case as the main witness did not show up at court; the fact that this witness was one of the timber bosses who had paid Reno and was on the run seemed to escape the judge.

Corruption is a key factor in explaining why major illegal logging culprits in Indonesia continue to evade justice. Last week I was in Jakarta to launch our new report, called Rogue Traders, along with our Indonesian colleagues from Telapak. The report exposes how well-connected individuals are able to smuggle valuable merbau timber out of the country to China, mainly by bribing customs officials and inspection agencies. One of the smugglers, Ricky Gunawan, first came to our attention in 2006. Despite reporting his illegal activities to the authorities of  two occasions, Gunawan remains untouched.

Just before the launch of the report Telapak provided a dossier of our findings to the KPK.  We hope that it will be able to stat looking into the corruption which riddles Indonesia’s forestry sector. That is if it is allowed to do its job of cleaning up and can stand firm against the powerful vested interests currently lining up against it.”

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