Loreto’s environmental prosecutor has opened a case against palm oil magnate Dennis Melka. Citing last week’s convictions for deforestation by executives of a Melka subsidiary as a test case with repercussions at national level, Alberto Carazo Atoche has announced his intention to investigate the “ringleader” with efforts to bring Melka to Iquitos to defend himself against the charge of masterminding extensive deforestation in Peru.

Melka is the CEO of United Cacao, which trades on the UK Stock Exchange and is registered in a tax haven in the Cayman Islands. The Melka Group is a transnational conglomerate of subsidiaries that includes some of the largest oil palm plantations in the world, including those in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Since Melka operates through subsidiaries rather than purchasing land directly, it is harder for the authorities to identify the ownership of concessions and hold them to account. By 2015, Melka was reportedly the head of a commercial group that had established 25 companies with 450 properties in Peru dedicated to palm oil; he was already under investigation for the deforestation of several thousand hectares.

But between 2010 and 2015, the Melka subsidiary Plantaciones de Pucallpa illegally cleared more than 5,000 hectares of primary forest in the Shipibo community of Santa Clara de Uchunya. Rather than face international exposure, the subsidiary withdrew from a roundtable on sustainable palm oil.

Loreto’s environmental prosecutor has thus taken an important first step in resolving the human rights abuses and environmental destruction brought about by the operations of the Melka Group over a decade in which it enjoyed effective immunity.