High-Ranking Indonesian Police Turn On Each Other
Murder scandal triggers backbiting
After the sensational murder coverup attempt that has gripped Indonesia’s National Police since July and forced a major personnel reshuffle, some of its highest-ranking officials now are turning on each other in what has been nicknamed “Star Wars,” accusing their fellow generals of providing protection services for illegal businesses including drugs, illegal mining, and gambling.
"The issue of Star Wars continues to emerge,” said the coordinating minister for Politics, Law and Security Mahfud MD. “In this war, high-ranking officials who have the rank of star open each other's trump cards."
This is the latest test for Police Chief General Listyo Sigit Prabowo (above) to clean up the scandal-scarred agency. Sigit, appointed by President Joko Widodo in January 2021, heads an agency long infamous for some of the worst corruption and unprofessional conduct in Southeast Asia. Sigit has come under suspicion himself for allegedly having received reports of some of the illegalities and done nothing about them.
What is extraordinary for Indonesia is that the government is not attempting to downplay the problem or cover it up. An unprecedented three police generals are now on trial with more possibly on the way, riveting the Indonesian public.
“Jokowi is letting this roll,” said a western businessman. The government, Mahfud said, will cooperate with the KPK, the anti-graft agency, to uncover police involvement in illegal businesses including mining, fisheries, forestry, food, and others. "We must immediately reduce this (war) by solving the root of the problem,” Mahfud said.
Part of the reason for the government to air the scandal is that the business community, particularly the growing international business community, has grown tired of paying bribes at every interaction with the police and putting up with inaction on complaints.
A video recently went viral containing testimony from Ismail Bolong, a former police officer, admitting to paying bribes to a number of police including the head of the Criminal Investigation Department, Cmdr. Gen. Agus Andrianto. Ismail, who has retired from the police force, claimed to have given Rp6 billion (US$385,000) in 2021 to Agus so that his illegal coal mining business in East Kalimantan could continue to run smoothly.
Ismail's statement was confirmed by Ferdy Sambo, the former head of the internal affairs of the National Police who is currently on trial for masterminding the murder of his bodyguard Brigadier Yosua Hutabarat, who was rumored to be having an affair with Sambo’s wife. Ismail's testimony, Sambo said, is in accordance with a report on the results of an investigation he conducted while still in office, that there had been "coordinating money" from illegal mining entrepreneurs to the police, one of whom was Agus.
Sambo said he had submitted the report to Sigit, the national police chief, a claim supported by his companion Brig. Gen. Hendra Kurniawan, who is currently also being tried in the obstruction of justice case for protecting Sambo. Both have been fired from the police in the aftermath of the Yosua murder case.
Agus denied the accusations and in turn accused Sambo and Hendra of taking the bribes. The three-star general also said the investigation report could have been engineered, as they did in Yosua’s case, which was falsified to say Sambo’s bodyguard had raped Sambo’s wife. After his first video went viral, Ismail reappeared via another one and stated that his initial statement was incorrect and came out under pressure from Gen. Hendra.
Police chief Sigit was reportedly angry at the confusing news and ordered Ismail arrested for questioning.
The pressure for Sigit to immediately investigate police involvement in the illegal mining business has caused various parties to hope that this would impel authorities to clean up the institution. The Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM) said bribes to the police in illegal mining business operations have been going on for a long time. Based on JATAM’s statements, as many as 160 illegal mining sites are spread across various districts and cities in East Kalimantan, increasing sharply from 2018 when there were only three.
Sugeng Teguh Santoso, the chairman of Indonesia Police Watch (IPW), asked the National Police to deactivate Agus Andrianto and form an investigation team to get to the bottom of the illegal behavior. He said there are several factions within the police force and each knows the faults of the other. This, according to Sugeng, has kept allegations of law violations committed by high-ranking officers tightly closed.
Established on July 1, 1946, the police institution is one of the country's oldest. Despite its success in fighting terrorism, it is regarded universally as corrupt, incompetent and often using violence against its citizens. A country risk report published by the Risk & Compliance Portal, a production of GAN Integrity, is typical of commentaries on the force, finding them “plagued by corruption, bribery is widespread, presenting companies with high risks.”
Police officers, the report said, “solicit bribes on every level, ranging from traffic violations to criminal investigations. Two out of five people perceive most or all of the police to be corrupt and one in four Indonesians report having paid a bribe to the police services in the past 12 months.”
Sambo, Hendra, and several other police officers were previously accused of providing protection services to the online gambling mafia. Their names are listed in a chart titled "The 303 Consortium of Emperor Sambo" which mentions the relationship between a number of high-ranking police officers, businessmen who are called 'crazy rich', and bookies in a number of areas in the country.
The police are also accused of protecting various illegal businesses carried out by the consortium such as gambling, prostitution, smuggling of fake spare parts, subsidized diesel fuel, liquor, and illegal mining. It is not clear who made and distributed the graph, but it is suspected that it came from a police group that is opposed to Sambo.
After the graph went viral, Inspector General Teddy Minahasa, the West Sumatra regional police chief, ordered arrests of online gambling actors in his region. Minahasa’s achievements almost led him to become East Java Regional Police Chief, until he himself was arrested on charges of controlling the distribution of 5 kilograms of methamphetamine. The drugs were taken from 41.4 kilograms of methamphetamine confiscated as evidence by police from drug dealers.
The arrest of Teddy, who was recorded as having a net worth in the tens of billions of rupiah— shocked the public because it was rare for a high-ranking police officer to be arrested for drug-related crimes.
The mess within the Indonesian police began with the murder of Yosua, masterminded by his superior, Ferdy Sambo, who tried to avoid punishment by manipulating cases and destroying evidence, aided by many of his police colleagues. After the disclosure of the case, many police officials were investigated for various alleged violations including obstruction of justice, links with the online gambling mafia, drug trafficking, and most recently illegal mining.
According to the results of a survey by the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI), the level of public trust in Indonesian Police has fallen from 70 percent in August to 53 percent in October. Amid the declining level of public trust, President Joko Widodo gathered all police chiefs from various levels and instructed them on several matters, including; maintaining solidity, enforcing laws against illegal businesses, avoiding repressive action, improving the quality of public service, avoiding lavish lifestyles, acting according to procedures, and prioritizing good public communication.
Although these points have been criticized a lot because they do not touch on structural problems within the police institution, the results of efforts to improve these institutions are worth waiting for.