An Indonesian Thrush Flies the Coop

Nunun Nurbaeti, the key witness in a massive Indonesian bribery case whose lawyers said she is afflicted with a mysterious disease that prevents her from remembering anything at all, appears to have remembered how to get out of Singapore ahead of pressure for her return to Jakarta.

Indonesian authorities said Wednesday that the woman, the wife of a prominent Prosperous Justice Party lawmaker and former Deputy National Police Chief, Adang Daradjatun, was somewhere in Cambodia, having used an Indonesian passport to pass immigration. She was said by her lawyers to have been in Singapore for months, reportedly being treated for the mysterious disease.

Ina Rachman, her lawyer, has repeatedly told reporters in May that claims that her client was not ill were false. “She is still ill. According to her family, her condition is deteriorating and there's nothing they can do,” Rachman said in May.

It isn’t certain when Nurbaeti arrived in Phnom Penh although Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar told local reporters that passenger flight data indicated she had traveled from Bangkok to Phnom Penh on March 23, at a time when her lawyer was telling reporters she was undergoing treatment in Singapore.

An irritated President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered the arrest and Nurbaeti’s return. Her passport was ordered revoked on May 27 when it became clear she was no longer in Singapore.

“The president’s instruction to the foreign minister is clear — to facilitate [Nurbaeti’s return] for the ongoing legal process,” Teuku Faizasyah, a presidential staffer on foreign relations, told reporters. Indonesia and Cambodia do not have an extradition treaty although cordial relations between the two countries might facilitate her return, officials said.

A fast trip abroad is de rigueur for fleeing Indonesian suspects, who often end up in Singapore. The most recent was Mohamad Nazaruddin, the former treasurer of Yudhoyono’s own Democrat Party, who was enticed home to face charges in two graft cases involving the construction of an athletes’ village for the Southeast Asian Games in Palembang. Nazaruddin’s wife is also to be questioned as a witness in an alleged graft case related to a solar energy project at the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration.

Nurbaeti was alleged in February to be the bagwoman who had distributed a literal sackful of travelers’ checks to a major swath of members of the country’s House of Representatives in an effort to secure their support for economist Miranda Goeltom’s appointment as the central bank’s senior deputy governor in 2004.

Some 15 former members of Indonesia’s House of Representatives have been on trial in five separate hearings for accepting bribes, with another 11 under indictment for seeking to secure the 61-year-old Goeltom’s reappointment.

Nurbaeti appears to have been rather peripatetic for a woman suffering from such a rare disease. Investigators for the country’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) say they tracked her on frequent trips to Bangkok from Singapore.

“We are coordinating with Cambodian law enforcement to track her whereabouts.” Amin Maulana Wicaksono, an official with the Indonesian Embassy in Phnom Penh, told reporters in Jakarta. “We hope that if she's still in the country, we'll be able to locate her,” Amin said.

The bribes in the Goeltom case seem to have been spread equally between members of the Democrat party, Golkar, headed by businessman Aburizal Bakrie, and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), headed by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Goeltom herself, who has since left the central bank, apparently is not under threat of indictment because there is no proof that she knew bribes were being paid to install her in office, although she was called to the Anti-Corruption Court o answer questions. She said it had been four years since she had seen Nurbaeti, who has ignored all summonses from the KPK.

According to testimony in the various trials, some 480 travelers’ checks totaling Rp24 billion (US$2.8 million) were handed out to lawmakers, who claimed they thought the money was campaign contributions that weren’t linked to any particular legislative action.

The travelers’ checks were purchased by a company called First Mujur, a palm oil company, from Artha Graha Bank. Both First Mujur and Artha Graha are subsidiaries of the Artha Graha Group, owned by a Sumatran businessman named Tommy Winata. The checks, according to testimony, were delivered in paper sacks to some lawmakers, color-coded envelopes to others. Officials from First Mujur told the KPK said they had no idea how the checks had ended up the hands of the lawmakers. They had been purchased to finance a palm oil plantation project, they said. Although the names of the bank and the palm oil company have been made public, Winata’s name has not been mentioned in the trial, and it is unlikely that it will be. He is considered too powerful to mess with.

Despite all of the confessions and all the prosecutorial statements, nobody yet has asked or told why it was so important to get Goeltom reelected and it does not appear that anybody will .