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As many as 23 companies said to be involved in Riau fires this year

Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said on Monday that as many as 23 companies were allegedly responsible for fires and haze that struck Riau earlier this year, although police so far have named only one of them a suspect.

“Civilian investigators of the [environment] ministry have questioned 46 companies, and found evidence that 23 companies burned forests and lands,” Balthasar said during a meeting in Pekanbaru, according to Indonesian news portal “We will delve into this case; this is an environmental crime.”

A total of 21 ministry investigators have been sent to Riau to investigate the case, Balthasar said.

He refused to name any of the companies, saying only that investigations are expected to be completed in six months.

More than 700 hotspots were detected across Riau at the height of the fire and haze crisis in the province in March, disrupting flights at the local airport and neighboring ones, as well as causing air pollution to spike to hazardous levels.

More than 100,000 people in Riau and neighboring provinces suffered from respiratory illnesses due to the haze, according to local health agencies.

The emergency status for Riau was only lifted in early April after three weeks of special operation involving central government officials, police officers and the military (TNI). By that time, police had named 110 individuals and a plantation firm — National Sago Prima, a subsidiary of Sampoerna Agro — as suspects in the case.

Balthasar said the environment ministry would coordinate with Riau Police for legal proceeding as soon as investigations by ministry officers were completed.

“We’ve also involved expert witnesses to support investigations,” the minister added.

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