RH refutes ‘baseless’ claims against firm

National, Normal


MALAYSIAN conglomerate Rimbunan Hijau has strongly denied allegations of human smuggling, drug running, arms trafficking and other claims levelled against the company by groups it said were trying to sabotage its operations in Papua New Guinea.
Senior RH executives who appeared last Friday before the parliamentary bipartisan committee’s inquiry into the anti-Asian riots in May, said that unsubstantiated allegations and claims had been made by international non-governmental organisations in their attempts to stop the company’s logging operations.
RH representatives who appeared before the committee last Friday included RH executive director Nathaniel Ho, RH Hypermart general manager Ang Cheng Chooi and manager corporate policy Axel Wilhelm.
Mr Wilhelm said there was a perception that logging ships coming in were carrying illegal immigrants.
He said there were also unsubstantiated claims of drug trafficking and arms smuggling levelled against the company’s operations which, he said, were completely unfounded.
He said the logging vessels, registered in Taiwan and the Bahamas, were owned by shipping companies who are under contract to ship logs.
“When the vessels come in there are SGS (Societe General de Surveillance) inspectors, landowners and police officers around. How would it be possible to bring in foreign illegals and off-load them into the bush?
“I firmly deny allegations that aliens are brought in tin containers to logging camps and disappear into the bush,” Mr Wilhelm said.
Mr Wilhelm said RH was established in 1989 primarily as a forestry operator, but has since diversified its investments into downstream processing, media, merchandising, information technology and property development.
It employs 5,000 people, with 4,500 nationals and 500 expatriates working in Papua New Guinea.
Mr Wilhelm said the group was not surprised at the riots of May because there had been a lot of incitement by groups including the Masalai website, international NGOs and the media.
He said that in 2003, one NGO group started its campaign against forestry on an international scale, with RH as its major target.
He said the campaign included a lot of racial slander and by 2008, the international group not only stepped up its campaign against RH but also provided support to other NGO groups.
Mr Wilhelm also presented an investigative report compiled by an independent group to the parliamentary committee.
“We were not surprise that one day people would take the opportunity of a protest march to target Asian-owned and operated businesses,” he said.
Mr Wilhelm said RH, for the first time in PNG, had introduced a timber legality and verification programme which is recognised by the Australian, New Zealand and other governments, certifying that the logs come from a legal source.
RH also said that although it was aware of counterfeit products sold in town, it only brought in quality products for sale.
The company also said its merchandising business of RH Hypermart did due diligence studies on products and did not import counterfeit products.
“Counterfeits cause many complaints from customers, so it is not wise to bring in those products,” Mr Ho said.