S'pore firm 'has no links to concession land in Indonesia'

Indonesian military troops and firefighters trying to put out fire on a vast burning peat land forest in Jabiren Raya district in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo island. This photograph was taken on Sept 24, 2015.
Indonesian military troops and firefighters trying to put out fire on a vast burning peat land forest in Jabiren Raya district in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo island. This photograph was taken on Sept 24, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

Singapore's effort to pressure Indonesian firms into ending the burning in Riau has just come up against another speed bump.

In a first last Saturday, Singapore began legal action against five companies to weed out haze culprits, including a request for information from locally incorporated Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) Company Limited. But this company has no links to concession land in Indonesia and its relationship with the larger Asia Pulp and Paper Group has changed, a group spokesman has claimed.

"It's two different companies... There was a relation in the past... That's why, when they received the notice from the NEA (National Environment Agency), I did not know until three days after," APP Group managing director of sustainability Aida Greenbury told The Straits Times by phone yesterday.

The NEA has asked about the nature of the connection between the two firms, among other demands for transparency.

Ms Greenbury claimed that APP Group is still collecting that information, but is "confident" of submitting a reply to NEA by today.

Public attention fell on APP last week, as it is the only one of five firms named by NEA that is based here. Filings with Singapore's Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority describe the Singapore firm as an investment company with US$2.07 billion (S$2.9 billion) in paid-up capital.

The firm reported a US$25.8 million loss after tax from continuing operations in 2013, the last time it submitted its accounts. It also had an accumulated loss of US$7.42 billion at the time.

The Singapore firm also counts among its directors one Suresh Kilam, an Indonesian who is a director of APP Group subsidiaries such as Indah Kiat Pulp and Paper, Lontar Papyrus Pulp and Paper, and Pabrik Kertas Tjiwi Kimia.

APP Group arranged for spokesmen from two conservation groups in Indonesia to speak to The Straits Times. The Forest Trust claimed it found "no indication" that APP Group or its suppliers caused the burning on its concession land.

The group and its suppliers have 3,000 trained firefighters between them, and three helicopters, said Ms Greenbury. "All these helicopters are now being used in South Sumatra because this is the area that is affected by fire," she said, whereas fires up north in Riau are smaller.

Ms Greenbury denied that APP Group's complex network of subsidiaries and chain of supply made it difficult to know who is at fault.

"APP Indonesia's structure is very clear. It has been available publicly in our sustainability report for many years," she said.

Mr Bustar Maitar, global head of the Indonesia Forest Campaign for Greenpeace, was part of the phone call with The Straits Times. He said he has faith in Indonesia's ability to contain the haze, adding: "Jokowi is my president, I saw with my own eyes he put himself in the middle of the forest fire. We're all angry here, not only people in Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore firm 'has no links to concession land in Indonesia''. Print Edition | Subscribe