Sat, 08 Apr 2000

IBRA's request for ad hoc judges denied

JAKARTA (JP): The Jakarta Commercial Court has rejected the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency's (IBRA) request to assign independent "ad hoc" judges to examine the agency's three bankruptcy cases.

Sihol Sitompoel, head of the bankruptcy court, said on Friday that none of the four ad hoc judges appointed by the government in early 1999 could examine IBRA bankruptcy cases because of a technical matter.

"They can't start serving at court yet because they have not been taken the oath of office," Sihol said.

According to Sihol, he invited the ad hoc judges in early January to take the oath but they refused the offer, saying they were not satisfied with the procedure in the issuance of verdicts.

An ad hoc judge can be assigned to a case at the initiative of the head of the commercial court, also called the bankruptcy court, after receiving a request from the parties in litigation. But Sihol said he could not meet IBRA's request because of such a "technicality".

Based on a presidential decree issued in February 1999, four ad hoc judges were appointed to assist in proceedings at the commercial court. They include two former judges Setiawan and Elijana, and two scholars Rudy Prasetio and C.F. Sunaryati Hartono.

Sihol, however, said that although the presidential decree was issued early last year, he officially received the decree only on Jan. 25, 2000.

According to the Supreme Court decree, ad hoc judges should first take the oath of office before the head of the commercial court before starting their duties.

IBRA, which suffered serious blows in its previous efforts to liquidate recalcitrant debtors through bankruptcy proceedings, said an ad hoc judge was needed to guarantee a fair trial.

The commercial court rejected IBRA's bankruptcy petitions against PT Tirtamas Comexindo, a trading company owned by Hashim Djojohadikusumo, and PT West Kalindo Pulp Paper mill.

Not long after, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) delayed the next disbursement of its loan to the country until the government fulfilled economic reform deadlines agreed with the agency.

The agency is also upset at the snail pace of the progress of the debt restructuring program carried out by IBRA, and at the government's handling of high-profile corruption cases.

Sihol said that the refusal to assign an ad hoc judge in IBRA's cases was not intended to cover up alleged corruption in court.

"The ad hoc judges turned down the offer to be sworn in until the Supreme Court changed the procedure of a court hearing," he said.

Sihol said the ad hoc judges wanted a "dissenting opinion" note to be recorded on the last page of a verdict document to notify when a verdict was reached after a split decision.

"In normal procedures, a dissenting opinion is kept in a confidential court book and how a verdict is reached should not be disclosed as it might create further arguments and potential confusion outside the court," he said.

"However dissenting opinions, as recorded in our court's confidential book, is attached to the verdict document in the instance of a case being appealed at the Supreme Court," he added.

IBRA wants an ad hoc judge assigned to examine its three bankruptcy petitions against what the agency has called uncooperative debtors at the commercial court on Monday.

The three debtors brought to the commercial court are trading firms A Latief Corporation which owes the agency some US$16.93 million in bad debts, crude palm oil processor PT Sumi Asih (Rp 73.94 billion and $6.73 million) and diversified PT Ometraco Corporation ($53.18 million). (udi)