Indonesia Loses a Human Rights Voice

Todung Mulya Lubis, Indonesia’s most prominent human-rights voice, Friday was disbarred from practicing law by the Jakarta Regional Honor Board after another prominent lawyer, Hotman Paris Hutapea, filed a complaint against him for an ethics violation.

In a telephone interview with Asia Sentinel, Mulya Lubis called the decision “totally baseless and unlawful” and said he has little hope of winning an appeal.

“For me this is a conspiracy of corrupt lawyers who feel troubled and disturbed by my stand to play by the rules and consistently fight against corruption,” he said. “The judgment is outrageous and has killed my life, violated my right to practice law, and defied common sense and justice. I will appeal, but I am losing hope in the integrity of the Bar Association. The legal profession is rotten.”

In 2002, Mulya Lubis said, he was asked by the Indonesia Bank Restructuring Agency (IBRA) to audit companies that had been hit by the economic crisis of 1997-1998 and were unable to pay their debts to the government. Under the agreement to represent IBRA, he was not allowed from taking on any practice in conflict with Indonesia’s Department of Finance and IBRA for two years. That time, he said, lapsed in 2004.

However, Hotman Paris Hutapea’s charge, he said, was based on a 2007 civil claim filed against one of the companies he had audited, however. The Department of Finance, he said, was one of the defendants in that case and he was accused of conflict of interest as a party to the case. However, he said, the Department of Finance did not object and in fact issued a letter that there was no conflict.

If the disbarment stands, it would remove one of Indonesia’s strongest campaigners against corruption from the court system. It again calls into question the integrity of Indonesia’s judiciary, considered among the most corrupt in the world. Overall, Transparency International awarded Indonesia a score of 2.3 out of 10 for integrity, ranking it 143rd in a world of 179 countries. Despite pledges by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to rid the country of corruption, he has made little progress.

In January, Jimly Asshiddiqie, president of the country’s fledgling Constitutional Court, established in 2003, told a meeting of foreign reporters that the entire judicial system needs to be overhauled from top to bottom, saying that legal uncertainty and perceived graft in the judicial system are among the biggest complaints lodged by foreign institutional investors operating in the country, according to Reuters, the result of an entrenched system of corruption as a result of Suharto’s rule.

Mulya Lubis has been on the defense side of some of Indonesia’s highest-profile human rights and freedom of the press cases, including representing Time Magazine against a defamation suit by Suharto, the late strongman who ruled Indonesia for 31 years, from 1967 to 1998. Time reported at the time of Suharto’s downfall that the Indonesian leader had amassed US$15 billion in stolen wealth. Suharto, who died in January, was awarded US$106 million in damages by Indonesia’s Supreme Court. The case is under appeal by Time.

A founding member and senior partner of the firm of Lubis Santosa and Maulana, he is is also one of Indonesia’s top corporate lawyers, representing such multinationals as CSFB, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley and many others in their attempts to reclaim hundreds of millions of dollars from defaulting companies in the wake of the 1997-1998 financial crisis. He is also representing Temasek Holdings in its squabble with the government over its telecommunications contract.

A 1974 graduate of the Faculty of Law University of Indonesia, he also attended law courses at the Institute of American and International Law in Dallas,Texas as well as holding master’s at law degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard University.

Mulya Lubis was a tireless campaigner and activist in opposing human rights abuses by the Suharto regime before it fell from power. He has continued to fight for constitutional reform in the wake of Suharto’s downfall as Indonesia gingerly turned toward democracy, and has consistently criticised the corruption of Indonesia’s courts, which is legendary.

In February, for instance, Hutomo “Tommy” Mandala Putra Suharto, the son of the late strongman, won a US$550,000 countersuit filed in a civil case that had accused him of corruption. Tommy served only five years of a 15-year prison term after being convicted in 2002 of sending two hitmen to murder Supreme Court Justice Syafiuddin Kartasasmita, the judge who had earlier found him guilty of corruption.

Tommy is now the subject of another civil suit for more than US$400 million after prosecutors, acting for Indonesia’s Finance Minister, alleged that the money, which was to be directed to pay off state loans to a car company had founded, PT Timor, had been instead diverted to European banks. However, there are few illusions that the money will ever be recovered.

Earlier, the Supreme Court also acquitted Akbar Tanjung, the former Golkar chief and speaker of the House of Representatives, in a graft case involving the misuse of state funds. That was seen as a major blow to any hopes of victory in the battle for reform of the judiciary.