Cleaning Up the Mandiodo Block
MANDIODO village in North Konawe, Southeast Sulawesi, was suddenly bustling on noon Friday, January 27. Eleven police cars entered the village, some 100 kilometers from Kendari, the province’s capital. Chief Comr. Nunung Shaifuddin, Deputy Chief of the Police Criminal Investigation Department’s Directorate Specific Crimes, headed the police convoy. They were there to raid illegal nickel miners.
This nickel mine in Southeast Sulawesi is often dubbed the Mandiodo Block. Stretching some 16,000 hectares, this hilly area used to be green. Within the past four years, with massive nickel mining, the area 20 meters above sea level appears bare and arid.
Here and there are mounds of soil. The police that arrived with investigators from the environment and forestry ministry’s directorate of law enforcement wanted to follow up on Tempo’s report from last week titled Illegal Nickle Laundering. This investigative report revealed the illegal nickel mining, which is then sold to smelters in Central and Southeast Sulawesi using forged documents.
The area is actually a concession of Aneka Tambang, or Antam. The state-owned company controlled the Mandiodo Block after a legal dispute with dozens of firms that were also trying to get mining permits. Antam then appointed a nickel mining firm that did not yet have the forest area utilization permit (IPPKH), which is required to do mining in a forest area. For four years, the illegal nickel mined had a market worth of some Rp39 trillion.
The law enforcement team went to a jetty owned by Cinta Jaya, a kilometer from the Mandiodo Block. There were mounds of earth containing nickel ore around the pier. There were also barges already filled to the brim. Police then checked the contents of the barges. But there was no one there.
Police Special Crime’s Deputy Director Adj. Comr. Didik Erfianto said that he could not ascertain if the nickel ore found at the barges were illegal or not. “We have difficulties identifying if the ore is officially Antam’s, or that it came from illegal activities,” said Didik while speaking with Chief Comr. Nunung and Chief Comr. Mohammad Irhamni, Chief of Special Crime’s Sub-Directorate II.
Members of the Joint Law Enforcing Team of National Police and Environment and Forestry Ministry inspect the location of an illegal nickel mining activity in Antam’s Mandiodo Block concession area, January 27. Tempo/Linda Trianita
From the Cinta Jaya jetty, the police team went on to Antam’s mining location. Again, mounds of earth with nickel ore were seen everywhere, but there were no mining activities in sight. There was a gaping hole from nickel excavation. “This ore is ready to sell,” said Irhamni. “In the past, this concession area was overlapping with that of Sriwijaya Raya. Now, there are no activities anymore.”
Irhamni further said that Antam should not be able to mine nickel ore there. While it still has a permit for the 16,092 hectares of land around the Mandiodo Block, Lasolo, and Lalindu in the North Konawe Regency, that location is outside of Antam’s operational and budget area. The mining and mineral resources ministry, which issued Antam’s permit in 2022, only gave concession to mine on 18 hectares out of the total of 42 hectares. “Many Antam contractors have worked outside of the permit area,” said Irhamni.
Antam’s contractor that mines nickel is Lawu Agung Mining (LAM). Through the Mandiodo-Tapunggaya-Tapuema operation partnership (KSO MTT), Lawu has the task to mine nickel in the three blocks in November 2021. Mining operations only started in January 2022. In the previous years, dozens of other companies already mined nickel there before the court decided that the concession was given to Antam.
Lawu is a company with majority shares owned by Windu Aji Sutanto, a businessman from Brebes, Central Java, who was also head of the volunteers for the Joko Widodo-Ma’ruf Amin presidential elections in 2019. Lawu then partnered with some contractors to conduct mining activities.
The problem was that Antam does not know for sure how many partner contractors Lawu has. Antam has even reported illegal nickel mining activities in the area to the police. So, Lawu’s partner firms have been accused of mining without Antam’s permission. “Police investigators said that those reported were partner contractors of LAM,” said Nunung.
The raid was not limited to that day. The police team moved towards the highest hill in Mandiodo village. From that location, it can be seen that the next hill was already barren. Meanwhile, the valley between the two hills planted by oil palm trees was submerged in reddish mud.
The area around the hill was formerly a concession of Karya Murni Sejati 27. A portion of the area is a limited production forest area. However, that company had a license. “But now it has been revoked,” an environment and forestry ministry official told Nunung and Irhamni.
The police said that contractors which partner with Lawu Agung Mining do not know the boundaries of Antam’s concession areas. This is why contractors of different firms often overlap with each other, mining nickel outside of the concession area of the company they are assigned to.
In order to curb the illegal nickel mining, based on the surprise visit that day, the police will ask Antam to construct road portals. These portals will function to curb the traffic of heavy-duty vehicles transporting soil containing illegal nickel to the Cinta Jaya jetty. The police also urged Antam to add its security personnel.
Actually, Southeast Sulawesi police has already signed a cooperation agreement with Antam on Thursday, January 19. Antam promised to set up posts in the concession areas, guarded by police. “We will also conduct intense joint patrols in order to minimize illegal mining activities,” said Adj. Comr. Didik Erfianto, Southeast Sulawesi Police Special Crime’s Deputy Director.
Didik further claimed that the police have frequently taken action against illegal nickel mining, all the way to court. However, he continued, the legal argument presented by investigators and prosecutors was turned down by the judges.
He gave an example of a case last year, in which the police arrested some illegal nickel miners. Didik’s team seized 27 excavators and mounds of earth containing nickel from mining locations.
However, in court the judge acquitted the suspects, saying that they were road workers, not miners without permits. “The judge even said that the investigators’ explanations were deemed subjective information,” said Didik.
Head of Lawu Group’s Legal and Advisory Team Salomo R. Damanik said his client conducted mining activities according to the rules. Their partners had not worked in forestry and other prohibited areas. So, they will continue cooperation with KSO MTT and Antam according to the contract up until March 2025.
As with the work program and budget (RKAB), Salomo said, it is under the authority of Antam. Salomo hopes that KSO MTT and Antam can get a bigger RKAB area so that it could employ more people. “The people around Mandiodo need employment,” said Salomo.
Several backhoes are parked on the roadside as the Joint Law Enforcing Team of National Police and Environment and Forestry Ministry inspects the illegal nickel mining site in Antam’s Mandiodo Block, January 27. Tempo/Linda Trianita
Abount suspicions of illegal mining activities in the form of operations outside the RKAB and forestry areas, Salomo said that KSO MTT has already set up seven guard posts since September 2022. He said that the accusations that Lawu has been mining in protected forest area since 2019 was absurd. “KSO MTT and Antam have only started mining since January 2022,” he said.
Until Saturday, January 28, Antam Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Nicolas D. Kanter did not respond to numerous calls or messages from Tempo asking for an interview. In a hearing with the House of Representatives’ Forestry Commission on September 27, 2022, Nico admitted that his company cooperated with Lawu Agung Mining. However, analysis derived from satellite images of Tempo together with Greenpeace Indonesia showed that 80 percent of the mining area were in protected and limited production forests.
National Police Chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo said his team would deal firmly with illegal nickel mining in Sulawesi. “Illegal activities will be thoroughly handled,” said Sigit. So, the police will set up a special complaint center at the Criminal Investigation Department to handle all issues having to do with illegal mining activities.