Paper-making giant probed for illegal logging

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China Daily 31 March 2005


China's State Forestry Administration (SFA) accused the Singapore-based Asia Pulp and Paper Co. (APP) of illegal logging in the southwestern province of Yunnan, the Xinhua News Agency reports.

While the investigation is not finished, SFA said it has spotted illegal logging in a project by APP, one of the world's leading paper makers.

"We believe that both APP and local governments are responsible for the violation," Wang Zhuxiong, a senior SFA official, was quoted by Xinhua as saying in Beijing at a national conference against deforestation.

"No violator will escape punishment when the investigation is finished," said Wang.

If its role in the scandal is confirmed, APP could become the first foreign venture punished for environmental violations in China, according to Xinhua.

Under Chinese criminal law, anyone convicted of illegal deforestation faces a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

The SFA's announcement Wednesday came four months after Greenpeace accused APP of "vandalizing China's forests" in its Yunnan project.

APP has since faced a non-governmental boycott initiated by Chinese environmentalists.

In November Greenpeace submitted a report to the SFA accusing APP of cutting down virgin forests in Yunnan. It said only 20 percent of the 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) of land covered by APP's "wasteland" project was real wasteland, according to Xinhua.

The report prompted the SFA to investigate. The agency has since found that more than 24,700 cubic meters (864,500 cubic feet) of timber was logged without government approval, said Wang.

APP could not immediately be reached for comment.

Xinhua quoted an APP spokesman as saying that while negotiating with the Yunnan provincial government on the project, the company had only targeted wasteland.

The SFA investigation also discounted a report from the Yunnan provincial forestry department released earlier this year, which blamed local project contractors and farmers for cutting down the natural forests.

"How could the farmers themselves initiate such massive logging?" asked Wang.

APP owns 13 pulp and paper companies and more than 20 plants in China, with gross assets of 5.5 billion US dollars, Xinhua said.

This week Greenpeace also warned that a paper plant which an APP subsidiary, Hainan Jinhai Pulp and Paper Co., is building in the southern province of Hainan will lead to illegal logging.

With a capacity of a million tonnes of pulp every year the plant will consume huge amounts of timber and the forest which APP is planting cannot meet the demand, it said.