Riau police accused of unprofessional conduct over forest fire probe

Indonesian officials putting a police line at a burnt forest concession area on Sept 2, 2016.
Indonesian officials putting a police line at a burnt forest concession area on Sept 2, 2016.PHOTO: AFP/ FORESTRY MINISTRY

JAKARTA - Riau police were accused on Tuesday of unprofessional conduct after they failed to inform provincial prosecutors that they were investigating a dozen companies accused of illegal burning of forests last year.

Those investigations were controversially dropped.

Under Indonesian law, the police must notify public prosecutors before they start any probe and involve the latter before terminating the investigations, among other legal processes, said Mr Benny Harman. He led a parliamentary taskforce examining the decision by Riau police to drop cases against 15 firms earlier this year because of what they said was insufficient proof.

"This wasn't carried out in these forest fire cases," he said, referring to the requirement to inform prosecutors about investigations.

"It is clear, for the time being, that there is unprofessional conduct by investigators," Mr Benny said after meeting with prosecutors from the province on Tuesday (Oct 11).

"We don't know what's the reason behind it, but we will certainly invite experts and the Riau police chief who had issued the termination (for an explanation)," he added.

The prosecutors from Riau and South Sumatra provinces were the latest officials summoned to give evidence to the working committee from the parliamentary commission for law, human rights and security.

The committee will present its findings to parliament and recommend that police restart investigations if evidence of violations by any company is found.

Riau chief prosecutor Uung Abdul Syakur told the committee that the police had reported investigations on only three companies and were surprised to learn about the dozen other cases.

"There's no such data in our register...so we don't have the right to question them," Mr Uung told reporters after the meeting. "If investigations are terminated, we should have been informed."

However, he declined to say the police had committed a violation, leaving it to the committee to decide.

Mr Uung also said local green groups that objected to the termination of investigations had expressed their interest to file pre-trial lawsuits against the 12 firms so that investigations can be restarted.

"We are ready, to coordinate, to expose them," he said.