WWF ally named in “massive” illegal logging scandal

Orangutan photo by Barefoot in Florida. Creative commons license.

UPDATE: I messaged WWF asking for comment + will post a response when I hear back.

A longtime ally of WWF has been implicated in a “massive illegal logging kickback scandal” inside one of the world’s most biologically diverse ecosystems. What’s more, the official, Musa Aman, Chief Minister of Malaysia’s Sabah region, is accused of making a fortune off of the same endangered orangutan habitat that he promised to protect.

Over the last several years, WWF has broadcast its partnerships with Aman’s Sabah government to protect the Borneo forest (home to the orangutans) and expand region’s marine protected areas. Aman even gave a keynote speech at WWF’s Asian green business conference last November. And Datuk Dr Dionysius S.K. Sharma, WWF Malaysia chief executive officer, has praised Aman’s “visionary leadership” for “walking the talk” of nature conservation.

“Sustainable development will determine if we get to keep this planet, and Sabah, with the leadership that it has, will be able to keep this part of the world intact,” Dionysius told a Malaysia newspaper last December.

WWF, however, has remained mum on the scandal that erupted this spring after a Malaysian activist group published documents allegedly leaked from two police investigations. The evidence compiled by anti-corruption units in Malaysia and Hong Kong included copies of bank records allegedly showing how an accomplice moved money from timber companies into a secret Swiss bank account held in trust for Aman.

The story is yet another dredged up by the daily news search created by the folks at Wiki Scraper. (Click on the link to check it out!)

WWF and other nature groups often court power brokers like Aman — relationships that have helped expand national parks and forests worldwide in recent decades. But corruption, weak rule of law, lack of funding, and other problems often leave these new wildlife preserves “protected” on paper only. The nonprofit groups, meanwhile, have lost credibility and local support by partnering with corrupt politicians, autocratic regimes and polluting corporations.

Previous Wiki Scraper finds include this piece alleging that staffers at my former employer, Conservation International, were directly involved in illegally felling trees inside a Vietnam nature preserve. (CI has denied the allegation and reportedly plans its own investigation.)

The recent scandals are just the latest reminder of the growing “reputational” travails facing international conservation groups, also known as BINGOs (big international nonprofit organizations). As controversies in remote rainforests start to reach their Western supporters, WWF, C.I., The Nature Conservancy and other groups are writing more people-friendly mission statements and policies. However, not everyone under the “environmentalists” umbrella buys the re-branding efforts; in fact, they’ve sparked a new round of debate over the direction of the movement.

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About greendistrict

I'm Christine MacDonald, a journalist and the author of the book: "Green, Inc., An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone B

Posted on April 18, 2012, in BINGOs, Conservation, Endangered Species, Environment, environmental justice, greenwash, Nature and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Have you received a response yet?

    The answer will likely be that WWF does not seek confrontation and will work with any decision maker.

    This type of ‘pragmatism’ is easily seen as opportunism when things go wrong. And there are major political ramifications. By endorsing corrupt politician, the (mostly foreign) conservation groups suppress Malaysia’s democratic development. Sabah’s Chief Minister Musa does not just use his stolen millions to finance his boys studies in Perth; he is surely expected to fork out millions of his stolen money to suppress the much more democratic opposition.

    WWF’s is not in the game to make money per se. Some of the best ecosystems we have left today we owe to dictators who liked to go hunting. But their policy to work with any decision maker is seriously flawed and they have become political cowards. This should be ruthlessly exposed because that makes a difference. They do have good people in their network who understand this stuff. And an article this by greendistrict contributes to that.

    • Calling all tipster: If you send me tips, I will investigate. Thanks.

      Hi Bungaraya, thanks for your comment. In answer: No, I haven’t received any formal (or informal) response from WWF. What about you? Have you discussed the scandal with anyone at WWF? I find these discussions are still largely considered “impolite” by the conservation establishment. I’m perfectly willing to keep on expose the disconnect between the groups’ mission (to perserve nature) and their ties to corrupt public officials and polluting corporations, though, at times, it does seem like one of those a tree falling in the forest.

  2. Pretty! This was an extremely wonderful post.

    Many thanks for supplying these details.

  3. One and a half years late but…

    I knew everything I needed to know when I read the CEO of WWF Malaysia is a Datuk. It is therefore hardly surprising that he could stand in a conference and talk of Aman’s powers of leadership in a positive light.

    To be fair WWF do some good work but unless they are prepared to grow a pair and talk about the real issues, then Borneo can kiss its biodiversity goodbye. It doesn’t matter how many workshops and film festivals WWF slap together.

    I think this represents a problem with the older, more established charities out there, as you point out their funding might very well come from dodgy places so there is an incentive not to speak against power. Surely a charity like this isn’t there just to look good and project positivity; at some point they have to actually do something brave. Such a shame.

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