The Noble Group is to savage 32,000 hectares of forests on the Mooi people's land in Sorong, West Papua province, following its June 2010 purchase of 51% of shares in PT Henrison Inti Persada, an oil palm subsidiary of the notoriously criminal Kayu Lapis Indonesia Group (KLI). What made these Noble executives enter such an ignoble deal with such crooks?
Its the cash money, of course. Richard Elman, Founder and Chief Executive Chairman of Noble Group (pictured) has said that his Mooi lands acquisition "complements the company's global agricultural and energy business".
More importantly, analysts have estimated that PT Henrison Inti Persada will be worth $162 million once developed, so the smart executives in Noble Group's Hong Kong offices can keep themselves in expensive cars and caviar into the future. Very nice indeed.
But not so nice for the local landowners, who have been dealing with KLI Group and its military and police supporters for decades. Local Mooi tribe landowners within the area Noble Group now owns have told NGO investigators how they have received a pittance from KLI group for their forests - as little as $2.50 per hectare, and "promises" of riches beyond their wildest dreams. (well, actually, some decent houses and education for their kids was all they wanted, but that has not materialized.) At these prices, Papuan landowners will get roughly $80,000 in cash compensation for the 32,000 hectares of land released for Noble's business. They might get some schools and houses, but who knows?
It is unlikely that the Mooi landowners will be able to ask Mr Elman if they will get these benefits, as they do not even know that their lands are now owned by such Nobles.
To make the deal taste less disgusting, PT Henrison Inti Persada is reportedly planning to register itself as a member of the RSPO (Round-table on Sustainable Palm Oil). Papua Forest Eye is not sure if this development was an order from the Nobles in Hong Kong, but is confident that any RSPO membership will not reduce forest destruction or improve the lot of the locals.
Papua Forest Eye is also confident that KLI Group's other oil palm enterprise in South Sorong, that of PT Inti Kebun Sejahtera - will not join the RSPO. That is because, despite having already cleared hundreds of hectares in Modan, the plantation is completely illegal under Indonesian law. Although this has been publicly reported to the Indonesian authorities by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Telapak, last year, nothing has happened and the illegal clearance reportedly continues, still unlicensed.
Even SBY's commands to combat illegal logging, in lieu of his $ 1 billion REDD deal with Norway, seems to have missed this clear opportunity to stamp out forest crime. But with KLI Group owing millions of dollars to state run bank Mandiri, perhaps there is more easily acquired cash for Indonesia in allowing KLI's illegal forest destruction to continue than there is in Norway's REDD wallet. It will be the President himself who decides where the Norway REDD project is to be "piloted", with Papua being one of five possibilities, so we shall see where his priorities lie.
In the interim, Papua Forest Eye assumes that the Noble Group have done their "due diligence", and will not invest in illegal businesses associated with their partners, the KLI Group. Once PT Inti Kebun Sejahtera is legalized by the authorities - the likely outcome, if history is anything to go by - then perhaps the Nobles in Hong Kong will step in there too. Land "rental" prices for indigenous owners in this plantation are reportedly cheaper than in Henrison Inti Persada, at merely $1.50 per hectare, so any deal would be even more noble for Noble.