Another court defeat for Malaysian logger Rimbunan Hijau

Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau must be thoroughly sick and fed up with the courts in Papua New Guinea because they keep losing legal cases.
Yesterday’s ruling in the National Court, dismissing Rimbunan Hijau’s application to strike out proceedings brought by a local non government organisation, was just the latest in a long series of court decisions against the company dating back over the last decade.

Rimbunan Hijau consistently denies its logging operations in PNG are illegal and unsustainable and employs a number of highly paid consultants and lobbyists to argue in its defence in the media and an international team of lawyers to argue its case in court.

Yet court decisions suggests the allegations of illegal logging are true as are the claims of serious human rights abuses, of which more emerged last week with Rimbunan Hijau accused of flying police into its logging camps to quell protests by traditional landowners over illegal logging in their forests [1].

In 2002 PNG’s Ombudsman Commission ruled the 1999 allocation of logging rights to 850,000 hectares of forest in Kamula Doso to Rimbunan Hijau was illegal.

But this did not deter Rimbunan Hijau from aggressively pursuing the logging rights through litigation. In 2006 the PNG Forest Authority failed to defend the litigation and the court accepted an agreement cooked up by Rimbunan Hijau and the regulator that again granted Rimbunan Hijau the rights to log the 850,000 ha.
But in stepped the PNG Eco-Forestry Forum who launched an appeal against the agreement, claiming it too was fraudulent and illegal. In 2009 the courts agreed, accepting the NGO’s appeal and declaring the earlier agreement unlawful and void.

During the course of the proceedings Rimbuan Hijau took every opportunity to try and exhaust the plaintiff’s resolve and financial resources by appealing to the Supreme Court each interlocutory ruling, losing every time.
But after the original Ombudsman decision, Rimbunan Hijau hadn’t just relied on one means to secure the rights to Kamula Doso. In addition to its fraudulent agreement it had also secured approval for the logging from the National Forest Board, using exactly the same process as in 1999 which the Ombudsman Commission had earlier ruled illegal. The Forest Board was still headed by PNG’s Director of Conservation, Wari Iamo, who the Ombudsman recommended be dismissed for his role in granting the earlier rights to Rimbunan Hiaju – a recommendation the government never implemented.

Again, in stepped the PNG Eco-Forestry Forum to challenge the Board decision through a judicial review case. And again, the courts agreed, ruling the allocation illegal after Rimbunan Hijau had again lost a series of interlocutory appeals.
It is not just the illegal logging cases that Rimbunan Hijau is losing. It has also tried to stop the criticism of its logging operations and the allegations of illegal and unsustainable logging and human rights abuses though defamation proceedings against the Eco-Forestry Forum and the Post Courier newspaper (one of only two daily newspapers in PNG – Rimbunan Hijau owns the other).
But like its illegal logging cases, Rimbunan Hijau has lost all its defamation cases.

Not only is Rimbunan Hijau losing the court cases, it is also having to pay the legal costs, not just for its own expensive team of local and overseas lawyers, but also those of the Eco-Forestry Forum. Each time it loses Rimbunan Hijau gets a costs order against it. Costs paid to the Forum to date are estimated to be close to K1 million and still growing.

The latest court loss means that Rimbunan Hijau will again face yet another trial, this time over the validity of PNG’s National Forest Plan which is meant to ensure the sustainability of all logging operations but which critics say does not exist in a valid form and is failing the nation’s forests.




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