By this point, Pantone’s relationship with Nilsson had soured, and his suspicions had boiled over into a full-fledged investigation into his past. In late March, Pantone was able to reach two of Nilsson's former associates, who claimed that they and indigenous communities in the Philippines had been victims of his deceit. Cecille Villanueva, who worked at an Australia-based energy consultancy company called Ienergy, sent the following to Pantone in an email:
We have known him to be deceitful, but also careful in covering himself from possible legal repercussions. But his character certainly shows a trail of … false claims to further his financial objectives, which
in the past involved illegally selling land and running with the monies of
vulnerable people. We hope this does not happen to the Matses.
She was referencing spurious land deals Nilsson had allegedly made with residents of the small South Pacific island nation Nauru. In the 1990s, according to transcripts of meetings in the Queensland Parliament, Nilsson had sold six rural lots in a coastal area development for $70,000 each. However, the lots did not exist and the investors in Nauru never received anything.
In addition, Nilsson's supposed carbon-credit firm began looking more and more like a shell company. It didn't have a functioning website or a physical office, according to a report from The Sydney Morning Herald.
After Pantone and the Matses shared theses details with AIDESEP and the Peruvian human rights monitor Defensoria del Pueblo, as well as the local newspaper, critics quickly labeled Nilsson a "carbon cowboy," and his plans began to unravel.
According to reporting by GlobalPost's Simeon Tegel, Defensoria del Pueblo instructed the Matses against signing a contract they couldn't read. After learning this, Nilsson stormed into the group’s office.
“He shouted. He insulted us, and we told him to leave,” Lizbeth Castro, the director of the office, told GlobalPost. “He said he was going to sue us and this would not stand. We told him, no problem, sue us. But we will keep on doing our work.”
In April, the Matses general assembly rejected the project.
But Nilsson continued to search for ways to get it off the ground, setting up meetings with another impoverished indigenous group, the Yaguas. He also dropped the Sustainable Carbon Resources Limited moniker and began operating under a new entity called Amazon Holdings.
By October 2011, he had convinced Javier Fasenando, the president of a Yagua federation, to sign a deal that would allegedly provide profits to the community "in return for rights to the 'wood' on their land."
According to GlobalPost:
Fasenando said that he understood the terms of the agreement. “Those who criticize it come from other communities,” he said. “They are envious.”
But at the end of our interview in Spanish, Fasenando struggled to confirm even the spelling of his own name. Other indigenous leaders confirmed to GlobalPost that he is unable to read or write.
Fasenando also was unable to tell me where FEPYRA’s copy of the agreement was.
Nilsson declined to provide a copy of the contract to GlobalPost, saying that he needed written permission from the Yagua communities involved in the deal.
Then, in an undercover operation led by investigative journalists with 60 Minutes Australia that aired in July 2012, Nilsson explained the real extent of his plan for the carbon deal to a producer posing as a potential investor as they sat over a huge map of the territory.
David Nilsson: It’s going to be billions.
Producer: Beg your pardon?
David Nilsson: Billions. I just, I’m scared to quote it, because it’s fucking huge, put it that way.
David Nilsson: My contracts are 200-year contracts, etched in stone, so when the carbon’s gone, people can come through and harvest the rainforest there. We’d have a forest management plan they can reforest, they can plant palm oil, they can cut all the timber. No one can stop them. No one can stop them.
Producer: But by doing this carbon plan, you’re stopping that happening?
David Nilsson: Yeah, but the carbon plan only goes for 25 years. The contracts still run and there’s enough timber there to supply the world down there. China will love it.
The project would profit not only from carbon credits, but also from felling the very forest it was allegedly protecting. Once the lead investigator, Liam Bartlett, revealed himself, Nilsson simply said that it wasn't a scam, and declared the interview over.