10. Covert meetings expose corruption

In 2004, NGOs EIA and Telapak Indonesia uncovered a billion-dollar illegal trade in Merbau logs from Indonesian Papua, including tracing supply chains to China and the USA.[1]

The logs were being harvested illegally and exported in contravention of the country’s log export ban, and processed into high-value wood flooring in China. Complex multinational syndicates involving corrupt Indonesian officials and brokers in Singapore and Hong Kong were being used to smuggle the logs out of the country and disguise their origin on arrival in China.

EIA used fieldwork to document illegalities at source, through field observations and interviews with affected communities. The scale, modus operandi and identity of key individuals involved in the smuggling of the logs from Indonesia to China was mainly exposed through undercover meetings with log traders in Jakarta, Singapore and Hong Kong, identified by trawling internet trading boards. This was supported by comparing Indonesian, Malaysian and Chinese trade data, and in-depth research into seizures of log smuggling vessels by the Indonesian authorities. Supply chain connections to the USA were made through undercover visits to Chinese manufacturers and analysis of US shipment records.

The report led the Indonesian government to launch an unprecedented crackdown on illegal logging in Papua, dispatching a 1,500-person task force and seizing over 400,000 cubic metres of timber. Prices of Merbau in China doubled in a matter of months as illegal supplies dried up.[2]

[1] EIA/Telepak Indonesia, ‘The Last Frontier: Illegal Logging in Papua and China’s Massive Timber Theft’, February 2005, http://www.eia-international.org/wp-content/uploads/The-Last-Frontier.pdf

[2] EIA/Telapak Indonesia, ‘Rogue Traders: The Murky Business of Merbau Timber Smuggling in Indonesia’, August 2010, http://eia-global.org/images/uploads/Rouge_Traders.pdf