Billionaire Investigated for Connection to Environmental Company That Destroyed an Island the Size of Singapore

By: Julia Mehalko | Published: Apr 27, 2024

One of the richest men in the world is now being investigated for his connection to an environmental company that destroyed much of a forested area on the island of Borneo.

This forested area that has been destroyed is about half the size of Singapore. Investigations have been ongoing as people try to uncover who was behind this destruction. Now, all signs are pointing to a billionaire.

The Forest’s Destruction

A company based in Indonesia called PT Mayawana Persada is ultimately the corporation responsible for deforesting a large area on the island of Borneo.

An orangutan seen in a forest in Borneo.

Source: Simone Millward/Unsplash

According to reporting, this destruction has spanned more than 100 square miles. As deforestation is highly detrimental to the environment, local communities, and wildlife in the area, many have been trying to figure out why this company did this — and who ultimately backed them. 

Billionaire Backing

A new investigation has finally revealed the man behind all of this destruction: Sukanto Tanoto, an Indonesian billionaire.

The sea on the coast of Borneo seen in the daytime.

Source: Ben Everett/Unsplash

Investigators were able to trace everything back to Tanoto by looking through holding companies that led to Royal Golden Eagle Group. Royal Golden Eagle Group is one of the largest resource conglomerates in Asia — and it’s also owned by Tanoto.

Hiding Behind Destruction

According to these investigators, Tanoto hid behind companies and paperwork to keep from facing damages.

A jungle with a river running through it in Borneo in the daytime.

Source: Polina Koroleva/Unsplash

“This complex corporate structure, in effect, hides the ultimate beneficial owner(s) of the company and can shield them from the legal and reputational risks of destroying such vast tracts of tropical forest,” Greenpeace Indonesia’s Arie Rompas explained


Now, critics have begun to call out Tanoto and have accused his businesses of “greenwashing.” Greenwashing is when a business or organization uses deceptive means to advertise that they are green, or following green policies, when in reality they are not.

A large bird flying in the sky in the evening by trees in Borneo.

Source: Polina Koroleva/Unsplash

Many large corporations, as well as billionaires around the world, have increasingly been accused of greenwashing in recent years.

Tanoto’s Former Promise

Accusations of greenwashing have occurred because of Tanoto’s own promises from years ago. In 2015, Tanoto’s business Royal Golden Eagle Group publicly stated that they would commit to a “zero deforestation” policy.

A baby orangutan seen in a tree in Borneo.

Source: Polina Koroleva/Unsplash

Royal Golden Eagle Group uses trees to create both pulp and paper products. By promising to uphold this policy, they were saying they would follow less destructive means to create their products.


Hiding Their Lies

Now, investigators have accused Tanoto and Royal Golden Eagle Group of knowingly lying to the public about their apparent desire to stop deforestation.

A look up at the foggy sky through the trees in a forest in Borneo.

Source: Polina Koroleva/Unsplash

Instead, the group continued to deforest Borneo. They tried to hide their destruction through paperwork and by using other holding companies. Now, however, they’ve finally been found out.


Deforestation in Borneo

For decades now, deforestation has been a major issue throughout Borneo. Many locals of the island have tried to stop it, to no avail. Big businesses and billionaires, such as Royal Golden Eagle Group and Tanoto, have seemingly been unstoppable in destroying the forests on the island.

An up-close view of a frog on a leaf in a forest in Borneo.

Source: Polina Koroleva/Unsplash

Many of these companies are deforesting the region for their own financial gain.


The Effects of Deforestation

However, deforestation can have astronomical negative effects on local communities. Entire ecosystems can be destroyed almost immediately because of this practice.

Two children playing in a forest in Borneo in the daytime.

Source: Wouter Groote Veldman/Unsplash

Animals that live in the forest no longer have a home, or food to keep them alive. Locals, including Indigenous peoples, also struggle when their lands are destroyed.


Calling For Help

Many organizations in Borneo have publicly asked for help — and for deforestation to stop. Just this year, Greenpeace explained that an orangutan habitat was being destroyed because of deforestation.

An orangutan in Borneo in a forest seen in the daytime.

Source: Simone Millward/Unsplash

According to Greenpeace, the orangutan habitat is just the latest destruction in what has become the “alarming resurgence of deforestation in Indonesia, driven by PT Mayawana Persada in Indonesian Borneo.”


Struggling To Find Who Is Responsible

Previously, Greenpeace has recognized that it’s hard to find out who should be held accountable for this deforestation, as the company has an “opaque ownership structure.”

A monkey sitting in a tree in a forest in Borneo, seen in the daytime.

Source: Robert Keane/Unsplash

Now that researchers have traced paperwork back to Royal Golden Eagle Group and billionaire Tanoto, there is hope that they can somehow be held accountable for what they’ve done — and that they can be pressured to stop this deforestation. 


Putting Pressure on Corporations

As Tanoto and his businesses have clearly refused to keep up their own promises, organizations have realized that they cannot be relied on to make change. Thus, people and organizations must push these corporations to make these changes they refuse to take on their own.

An elephant walking through a jungle in Borneo.

Source: Rob Hampson/Unsplash

To do this, organizations have called on lawmakers to create consequences for corporations that harm the planet, or deforest areas. Consumer boycotts of these companies could also potentially bring about a difference.