Tue, 28 Dec 2010

From: The Jakarta Globe

By Nivell Rayda
Corruption, as it always has, dominated headlines throughout the year. But one particular case stood out among the rest, simultaneously fixating and disgusting the entire nation, as an illustration of how widely and deeply graft is ingrained into the country’s social fabric: that of 31-year-old Gayus Tambunan.

Over the past year, Gayus evolved from being an unknown tax officer to a powerful figure able to bend the country’s justice system, using illegally gained wealth to escape conviction and, later, the walls of his prison cell.

His case stands out, not so much because of the amount involved - police later found he had about Rp 100 billion ($11.1 million), which was easily trumped by the Rp 932 billion allegedly illegally amassed by another tax official now on trial, Bahasyim Assifie.

But Gayus’s case stands out because of how it has exposed how money rules over law in almost all aspects of the Indonesian judiciary system.

The facts of the case are far too well known by now.

Gayus, who worked at the Taxation Tribunal, was originally charged with accepting bribe money from companies seeking to ease the tax appeals process. However, in the hands of the Attorney General’s Office, the charges were changed to embezzlement, which the Tangerang District Court in Banten cleared him of.

The case was only revived when the former National Police chief of detectives, Comr. Gen. Susno Duadji, brought the matter to the media’s attention, accusing two of his former subordinates of taking bribe money from Gayus.

The presidentially appointed Judicial Mafia Eradication Task Force made Gayus’s case their top priority, calling it an entry point for reforms inside law enforcement agencies.

The task force persuaded Gayus, who fled to Singapore shortly after his acquittal, to return to Indonesia and cooperate with the team in exposing the rampant corruption inside the National Police, the AGO and the judiciary, as well as his former workplace in exchange for leniency.

His admissions led to the arrest of two police officers, a judge and a group of lawyers allegedly distributing bribes to law enforcers. Two prosecutors were later charged with leaking top-secret prosecution dossiers but not for accepting bribes.

Where’s the Reform?

Gayus’s admission paved the way for reform inside the Taxation Tribunal but not inside law enforcement agencies as the task force had envisioned.

“The National Police only charged low-ranking officials suspected of receiving bribes from Gayus. Top officials from the National Police remain untouched,” Indonesia Corruption Watch researcher Febri Diansyah said, citing one of several anomalies in the handling of the case.

The antigraft watchdog also highlighted that the taxation cases Gayus had handled had not been re-evaluated while executives from the companies that supposedly paid off the tax official had not been investigated or even brought in for questioning.

Task force member Mas Achmad Santosa said in May that initially they wanted the case to be handled by the independent Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). “But [the National Police] convinced us that they can handle the case and that they were also eager to conduct an internal reform,” he said.

The seriousness of the police in investigating the case was questioned again after Gayus was spotted by a Jakarta Globe photographer during a tennis tournament in Bali in November when he was supposed to be locked up at the police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) headquarters in Depok.

Gayus later admitted he had bribed the detainment facility’s chief and that he had been let out of his cell at least 68 times.

As pressure for the KPK to take over the case intensified, the agency expressed caution over the plan, saying it was still “examining whether the case is in our jurisdiction.” By law the KPK can only handle corruption cases involving high-ranking public officials.

Protecting Whistle-Blowers

Gayus’s case also highlighted Indonesia’s lack of preparedness in protecting whistle-blowers.

Despite spilling the beans on where his vast fortune originated and detailing exactly how he bribed police, prosecutors and a judge to get away with corruption charges on his first trial, prosecutors from the South Jakarta prosecutors’ office demanded the maximum 20 years imprisonment for Gayus in his ongoing second trial.

By contrast, Sjahril Djohan, who was fingered by Susno as a major case broker operating at the National Police headquarters, was sentenced in October to 18 months in prison for channeling bribes for the former chief detective, just six months shorter than what prosecutors asked for.

Prosecutors argued that they found no mitigating circumstances in Gayus’s case. “It seemed like the prosecutors forgot that Gayus had agreed to co-operate fully in the police’s investigation,” said Adnan Buyung Nasution, Gayus’s lawyer.

Gayus had a more cynical approach when asked to comment on the prosecutors’ harsh sentence demand, saying it was because “I hadn’t taken care of them like the first time around.” He was referring to the first time he went to court earlier this year, during which prosecutors only demanded one year of probation.

Saldi Isra, a legal expert from Andalas University in West Sumatra, said the 2006 law does little to protect whistle-blowers as it does not recognize the concept of state’s witnesses.

Gayus is not the only victim. Susno, who first exposed the case, was later charged on corruption offenses linked to a business dispute over a fish farm in Riau and embezzling funds earmarked for securing the 2008 regional election during his time as West Java chief of police.

The Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK) and the National Police soon were involved in a tug of war over Susno’s status and custody. The former conceded after police guaranteed Susno’s personal safety.

In June, Susno lodged a judicial review of the 2006 law to the Constitutional Court, arguing that the National Police had exploited loopholes in the law to silence him. The court rejected the motion.

The task force proposed to amend the regulation, particularly Article 10, which stipulates that a whistle-blower could only plead for leniency instead of being given full legal protection from future prosecution. The amendment is still being deliberated.

Uphill Battle vs. Graft

Against the backdrop of the complex and systemic graft Gayus’s case has unveiled, the fight against corruption appeared more and more a doomed cause.

This year, Indonesia ranked 110th out of 178 countries surveyed by antigraft group Transparency International, with a score of 2.8, with 10 being the least corrupt. The score is exactly the same as last year although Indonesia’s position improved slightly from 111th place.

Transparency said the government had failed to live up to its promise of cleaning up public institutions from graft as people still fall victim to illegal fees in acquiring licenses and permits.

Fears that the battle against corruption was being lost were further underscored by two events. In June, the ICW tried to revive a 2005 case involving suspicious bank accounts supposedly belonging to 15 National Police generals. Armed with fresh evidence, the watchdog submitted to the KPK and the judicial mafia task force proof of wire transfers to several accounts connected to one of the generals involved in the 2005 case.

A month after the ICW filed the complaint, two unidentified men threw molotov cocktails at Tempo magazine’s office on July 5. The week of the attack, the magazine had featured an in-depth report on the case.

Three days later ICW researcher Tama Satrya Langkun was ambushed by four unknown assailants upon his return from watching a World Cup soccer match in South Jakarta. Tama sustained multiple bruises and cuts to his head and was hospitalized for days.

To this day, parties responsible in both attacks remain a mystery. Police also refused to conduct any formal investigation into the suspicious accounts, saying that only two reports were connected to criminal activities and the officers involved had been charged long before the ICW made the allegations.

Embattled KPK

The KPK, often cited as the only law enforcement agency still trusted by the public, continued to spend most of the year with two of its deputy chairmen in legal limbo in what many saw as a bogus charge to undermine the independent body.

Though businessman Anggodo Widjojo has been sentenced to four years in prison for attempting to bribe Bibit Samad Riyanto and Chandra Hamzah, the pair is still waiting for the case against them to officially be closed.

Still, the KPK made a daring move in September, naming 26 former and current lawmakers as suspects for receiving part of Rp 24 billion in bribes in exchange for voting for economist Miranda Goeltom as Bank Indonesia senior deputy governor in 2004.

Watchdogs, though, only cautiously applauded the move. This year, the KPK had not been able to trace the source of the funds or charge the alleged financier and mastermind of the bribery.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who came into his second term of office with a renewed pledge to crack down on the so-called judicial mafia, has acknowledged that the fight against corruption is far from won and more aggressive efforts are needed to rid the country of graft. The president has cited five areas that would be the main focus of reform, however no detailed instructions were given on how to enact the changes.