Wed, 22 Mar 2000

Payoffs prominent in court system

By Fabiola Desy Unidjaja

JAKARTA (JP): Many cite law enforcement as the key to structuring a better way of life in Indonesia.

But Indonesia's judicial system, one of the backbones of law enforcement, has yet to show any signs of change.

Too often people claim that money, not the law, is the determining factor in legal decisions.

Testimony by several lawyers also indicates that the practice is far too easy to conduct, particularly in civil cases.

Supreme Court Secretary-General Pranowo concedes that such corruption has infected all levels of the judicial system, even up to the country's highest court.

"I don't close my eyes to the fact that 'numerous' judges are engaged in the practice. But for me 'numerous' can mean many or just a few of them," Pranowo told The Jakarta Post earlier this week.

Preliminary research by Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) claims that only five of 41 supreme justices in the Supreme Court cannot be bought, while the rest have questionable integrity.

Lawyer Juan Felix Tampubolon told the Post that such practices were real and lawyers could easily sense it in certain cases.

"I'm sure that it (bribes) exists, I don't have any doubt about that. But I still believe there are some judges with integrity," Tampubolon remarked.

But Tampubolon, who is legal council to former president Soeharto, says he has never personally bribed a judge.

"I do give the judges presents or tokens during Idul Fitri or New Year, but not concerning a case," he said.

But several young lawyers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, admitted to the Post that bribery was very much a part of their everyday procedures in making legal arguments in court.

They discounted popular terms such as a "court mafia", saying that the process was really very simple.

One lawyer recounted how in 1997 he paid off a judge with Rp 1 billion when representing a business tycoon who was involved in a trillion rupiah bank scam with a private bank.

"I remember carrying the suitcase containing all the money. I also handed over it to the judge himself," the lawyer said earlier last week.

The fate of the case that made news headlines that year remains suspended and largely forgotten by the public.

The businessman still runs his multinational company, while the private bank has been liquidated.

Another lawyer said that from his experience at the Jakarta provincial court, judges would not even look at your case if you could not come up with at least Rp 75 million.

"Once you mention the amount they will process your case," he said.

"You must pay everything in cash and hand it over before the verdict is read out. This way they can't trace the payoff, until maybe one of us comes forward," he remarked.

But how does one know which judges to bribe?

Another lawyer said that he only had to casually spend some time talking with people in the courthouse.

"Just ask around inside the building and you will know. It's very simple, there's nothing special about it," he said.

"It's just like (paying off someone) when you are trying to get a driver's license or an identity card," he said.

He said a lawyer only had to walk up to the judge and say the magic words: "So how can you help the case sir; we are ready to support it with some substantial funds," he said, adding that the transaction would automatically occur later.

"And don't forget to mention the amount," he said.

He pointed out that as a general guideline for a civil case involving Rp 10 billion, an amount less than Rp 200 million was never mentioned.

He estimated that for "big cases", such as when a district court threw out an indictment earlier this month against a businessman who was involved in another well-known bank scandal, "the pay-off is more than Rp 2 billion."

But far from bemoaning the practice, these lawyers seem to perceive it as fair game in the legal field. And if there is such a thing as honor in bribery, they say that judges never betray you by taking money from both sides.

"They only take money from one side and once they receive the money they will never let you down, no matter how impossible the case may seem," the lawyer said.

"It's first come first served."


While there is no excuse for such practices, legal practitioners point to the fact that judges in the past were severely underpaid and overworked.

Pranowo said judges had received a 100 percent hike in their salaries.

A judge now takes home about Rp 3 million a month, while a supreme justice receives about Rp 10 million.

Another problem is the lack of a formal external watchdog.

The Supreme Court is the only monitoring body for all judges in the country. "We have the right to examine their verdicts, but only if we receive public complaints," he added.

A backlog of cases also compels many with money to bribe their way through a fast track legal process.

For example, the Supreme Court receives about 7,500 cases annually, in addition to the some 12,000 cases still pending.

"With that amount, we have to finish about 40 cases each day and we only have 17 teams of supreme justices," Pranowo said.

"If we pay the judges off, the cases will resolve sooner," one lawyer remarked.

One solution being looked at is the establishment of an independent commission consisting of legal experts and former judges to review questionable verdicts.

"But we need the public to report their complaints before the commission can conduct an investigation," Pranowo said.

To reduce the amount of cases at the Supreme Court, Pranowo proposed certain requirements before a case was brought to the nation's highest court.

ICW has similarly proposed that only criminal cases which sanction at least a five-year jail sentence or civil cases involving a dispute in the amount of over Rp 100 million be brought before the Supreme Court.

Apart from higher salaries, ICW stresses that transparency is crucial, particularly in the nomination process.

"Legislators should examine candidates' track record and audit their assets," ICW coordinator Teten Masduki told the Post.

Legislator Hartono Mardjono of the Crescent Star faction said while fundamental changes were being made there should be a clean-out of current judges.

"In the short-term, personnel changes would be an effective solution," he said without elaborating.

Tampubolon and Pranowo disagreed with such an idea.

"A watchdog system by the House, through hearings, and a fact- finding team is a good start," Tampubolon said.

"There are thousands of judges and some of them are good and have integrity. A mass replacement would only sacrifice the good judges." Pranowo added.(dja)