Tue, 22 Aug 2000

Three justices named in bribery case

JAKARTA (JP): The government-appointed Joint Team to Eradicate Corruption named on Monday three justices of the Supreme Court as suspects in a bribery case, paving the way for the first ever trial against the country's top judges on charges of corruption.

Team chairman Adi Andojo Sutjipto, a former justice, named them as M. Yahya Harahap, who has now retired from the Supreme Court, and Supraptini Sutarto and Marnis Kahar, both active justices.

The three were members of a panel of justices who allegedly accepted bribes while handling a land dispute in 1998, Adi said.

The case came to light after a witness in the land dispute came forward claiming to have paid the three justices Rp 196 million (US$24,000) to influence their decisions.

Adi's team has been given overriding powers to deal with the rampant corruption in the legal system.

At the recommendation of the team, the man who reported the bribery is already in the Attorney General's Office witness protection program and his name cannot be disclosed to the public.

"The three justices have denied receiving any bribe, but we have found enough incriminating evidence to build a case against them," Adi said, adding that the case would soon be filed with the Central Jakarta District Court.

"The money is not much, but this is a sore in our legal system which should be amputated. We're going to investigate bribery cases in the judicial system to the roots," he said.

Adi said he would ask Attorney General Marzuki Darusman to request that the Supreme Court suspend the two active justices to facilitate the trial.

Adi's team, set up by Marzuki and inducted by President Abdurrahman Wahid, is an embryo of the Commission to Eradicate Corruption, mandated by the 1999 Antigraft Law, which must be established before August next year.

The team comprises state prosecutors, police officers, officials of the central bank and other government institutions as well as activists and experts from non-governmental organizations.

The team has made it a priority to eradicate corruption in the judicial system, including the Supreme Court and district courts.

The team has the power to conduct investigations and to prosecute suspects. It also can seize evidence and tap telephone conversations.

The case concerns 17,000 square meters of land in the West Java capital of Bandung disputed between two parties -- heirs to a certain Aksan as plaintiffs and Sunata Sumali alias Sunanham as defendant.

The witness has testified that he paid Justice Harahap Rp 96 million in cash delivered to his residence, and Rp 50 million each to Supraptini and Marnis, delivered to their offices, in November 1998, when the case was first heard by the Supreme Court.

The case has experienced changing fortune. At the first hearing, the panel of justices led by Harahap ruled in favor of the defendant. The case, however, went into a second hearing, with a different panel of justices, and the defendant lost.

The case, according to Adi, is now under judicial review by the Supreme Court.

Adi said the Attorney General's Office has agreed to waive the right to prosecute witnesses who bribed officers of the court in return for their cooperation.

"Judges are experts in concealing evidence of wrongdoing. So, we encourage people who have bribed judges to come forward," he said. (bby)