Eyebrows are being raised within Lima’s legal community by the case of a lawyer, Alonso Rey, who was briefly legal representative of the Tamshi SAC palm oil company, three of whose managers have been condemned for the illegal trafficking of timber and the obstruction of administrative procedures.
Now the same lawyer is defending the company he formerly represented in another case that raises issues about the company’s role in deforestation. As a partner in one of the country’s leading law firms, he is pushing the government prosecutor in Iquitos to withdraw from the case against the firm. This raises questions about conflict of interest and possible intimidation.
Tamshi SAC, formerly Cacao del Perú Norte SAC, was founded in 2010 by the now notorious Dennis Melka. Melka is accused of generating devastating impacts on the rainforests of Malaysia and seeking to replicate his experiences through his palm oil plantations in Peru. Cacao del Perú Norte was expelled from the London Stock Exchange for its role in deforestation. It then reorganised as Tamshi.
In July 2019, Iquitos prosecutor Alberto Caraza won the first case against Tamshi, and three of its managers were sentenced by the court to terms ranging between four and eight years in prison in a pioneering and emblematic case in defence of the Peruvian rainforest.
Caraza is now pressing a subsequent case against the company, defended by the same lawyer Alonso Rey. Rey has now formally asked the prosecutor to withdraw from the case in what appears to be a subtle form of intimidation.
Rey is partner in the law firm Payet, Rey, Cauvi, Pérez, one of the country’s leading law firms. Its founder, José Antonio Payet, said in 2017 in an interview with the newspaper Gestión, that the company was finding that the defence of companies accused of corruption represented a better business opportunity than defending development.
Rey has defended the legality of his actions in the face of an article about the case recently published by Mongabay. But it would seem that, by directly pressuring the prosecutor rather than presenting a motion to the judge in the case, he is pressing the limits of legality, especially given the apparent conflict of interest in his roles of accused and legal defender.
Given that the prosecutor has been the subject of protest actions by Tamshi employees outside his offices and has received anonymous threats, such an action by the partner of an influential Lima law firm against a provincial prosecutor may be construed more as intimidation than the legitimate defence of a company’s right to establish and operate palm oil plantations.