Indonesia’s Anti-Graft Watchdogs Face Bomb Terror

Indonesia’s renowned Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), the country’s incorruptible graft watchdog, is coming under unprecedented pressure in what appears to be an attempt to intimidate the agency amid high-profile probes including one involving officials of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration.

KPK Chairman Agus Rahardjo and Deputy Chairman Laode M. Syarif were targeted on the same day. An unknown culprit hooked a bag containing an object looking like a bomb to the fence of Agus’s home at 5:30 am on Jan. 9. It turned out to be a fake. Meanwhile, two motorcyclists hurled Molotov cocktails at Laode’s home, one of which exploded. The other didn’t.

Threats and attacks on KPK investigators and commissioners have become routine enough that they call them “like breakfast.” In April 2017, senior investigator Novel Baswedan was partly blinded when assailants threw hydrochloric acid in his face. The organization’s Employment Union chairman Yudi Purnomo said the latest bomb threats are the ninth attack experienced by the institutions and those in its ranks.

Others have included bomb threats to the KPK building, terror bombings to the houses of investigators, acid attacks into vehicles belonging to investigators and employees, death threats, seizure of equipment belonging to investigators, kidnapping of KPK officers on duty and attempted murder of investigators.

The latest attacks, Yudi said, “show that they (corruptors) are carrying out psychological warfare."

Police task force

Police have formed a team from the Indonesia Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (Inafis) and Forensic Laboratories, in coordination with the anti-terror agency Detachment 88 to attempt to uncover who is behind the current attacks.

"We continue to work to investigate the culprit, we will reveal the motives, just wait," said National Police Spokesman Inspector General Muhammad Iqbal.

The KPK has come under pressure because of its increasing effectiveness and persistence in investigating major corruption cases in one of the world’s most corrupt countries. In 2018, the agency handled 178 cases, up compared to 2017 and 2016, which were 118 and 99 respectively. The KPK also ran 28 sting operations during 2018, the most since the establishment of the institution as well as probing bribery cases involving at least 28 regional heads and 91 legislative members.

Some of the big cases currently being investigated by the KPK include the case of granting bailout funds to Century Bank, which dragged in the names of prominent figures in the government of former President Yudhoyono, the subject of Asia Sentinel stories starting in 2015. At least 40 government and private officials have been questioned by the KPK since the agency resumed its investigation in June 2018.

Former Deputy President Boediono and Former Century Bank Managing Director Robert Tantular are among individuals who have been named regarding cases that have cost the country up to Rp8 trillion.

In addition to Century, Lippo Group officials are being questioned over bribery allegations related to its ambitious Meikarta project in Bekasi Regency, West Java. The KPK determined nine suspects, including Bekasi Regent Neneng Hasanah Yasin and Lippo Operations Director Billy Sindoro. In October, Lippo's CEO James Riady was questioned by the KPK, but there have been no legal charges to date. The KPK stated it is possible for Lippo to be charged with corporate crime if there was sufficient evidence.

The KPK is now also reopening the investigation into the case of the provision of Bank Indonesia Liquidity Assistance (BLBI), which occurred during the reign of Megawati Sukarnoputri. The anti-graft body is also investigating corruption in the ministries of Youth and Sports, as well as the Ministry of Public Works and Public Housing under current government.

Longtime Target

Formed in 2002, the KPK became the leading institution in fighting corruption after the corrupt leadership of the strongman Suharto, who was forced from power in 1998 and died in 2008. The agency is feared because of its record of invincibility, having never lost a case. Hundreds of individuals including government officials, members of the house of representatives and businessman have been tried and imprisoned since the establishment of the institution.

The KPK has special authority including the right to tap phones, and is not subject to the jurisdiction of the country’s notoriously corrupt national police, attorney general and courts. Because of its authority and strength, the KPK is allegedly often a target to be weakened, both through terror, "criminalization" of its officials and attempts to weaken its powers in the legislature.

The KPK union’s Yudi said there was a similar and recurring pattern in several terrorist acts, such as the perpetrators consisted of two people using acid and bombs. In the attack that befell Baswedan, two motorbike riders threw acid in his face in the early morning, resulting in loss of his vision in one eye.

Yudi stressed that KPK employees aren’t being intimidated into stopping their investigations.. However, he said, he hopes President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo can use the current attacks to generate momentum for the police to immediately resolve them.

"We believe this is not the last. If this is not revealed, it could be another terror against investigators, prosecutors, officials, and other KPK employees in the future," Yudi said.

In addition to terror, police repeatedly have sought to derail investigations, charging KPK officials with various violations of the law. The first criminalization took place in 2009 when the chairman of the KPK, Antasari Azhar, was accused of being the mastermind behind the murder of a businessman, which he denied. He served eight years in prison before the charges were later dismissed by Jokowi.

In 2015, the chairman and deputy chair of the KPK, Abraham Samad and Bambang Widjoyanto, were accused of being involved in a legal case when the agency was investigating alleged bribery involving four-star general Budi Gunawan. In 2017, two KPK chairman Agus Rahardjo and Saut Sitomorang were reported to the police by the attorney of the former house speaker Setyo Novanto, amid investigation to Novanto's bribary case.

Efforts to weaken the KPK also rolled out in the legislature through a proposal that the house of representatives and the government should revise Law Number 30 of 2002 about the KPK, which activists considered could reduce the agency's authority in the investigation process. In addition, the new criminal law, which is ready to be ratified by the house, is feared to hamper efforts to eradicate corruption because it contains articles that weaken the KPK.

Jokowi and the Case of Novel Baswedan

Immediately after attacks against the leadership were revealed last week, Jokowi said he had instructed Police Chief General Tito Karnavian to investigate because the incident was clearly a form of intimidation against law enforcement.

"I think there is no tolerance for that. Chase and find the culprit," Jokowi said.

The bomb attacks are the latest test for Jokowi, who is running for reelection amid criticism related to the attack against Baswedan. Until now, Jokowi has not granted activists' demand for an independent Joint Fact Finding Team (TGPF), instead choosing to wait for the police investigation to be completed even though the investigation has lasted almost two years. Activists suspect that the police aren’t really committed to resolving the case.

On Tuesday last week, Karnavian signed a warrant establishing a joint team consisting of experts, law enforcement, human rights commissions, and activists to resolve the Novel case. "The warrant was issued to follow up on the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission team," National Police Spokesman Inspector General Mohammad Iqbal.

But Novel's advocacy team are skeptical.

"I am worried that the team will be formed only to provide an answer for Jokowi during (a Jan. 17 presidential) debate," said one member of the team, Haris Azhar, as quoted by He said the new team can’t be called independent because of the majority originate from the police.