Indonesia's Fugitive Former Treasurer Found?

Muhammad Nazaruddin, the fugitive former treasure of Indonesia’s Democrat Party, is believed to have been arrested in Cartagena, Colombia, Djoko Suyanto, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs announced Monday.

If indeed it is Nazaruddin, who was said to be traveling on a fake passport under the name M. Syafruddin – and it appears to be -- it would put an end to a four-month odyssey during which the fugitive politician has severely embarrassed the party, headed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, with a barrage of charges implicating top party officials in a multi-million dollar scandal over the construction of an athletes’ village for the Southeast Asian Games in Palembang in November. Many top Democrats are believed to have hoped Nazaruddin would keep going because he can implicate individuals said to be close to Yudhoyono himself.

Loudly denying his culpability, Nazaruddin has been issuing statements from undisclosed locations on BlackBerry and Twitter that have named the party chairman, Anas Urbangingrum, and other officials as implicated in the athletes’ village bribery scandal.

Sources in Indonesia said Monday that Nazaruddin was believed to have been in Argentina earlier last week. The individual identified as the fugitive was arrested by Interpol in Cartagena, a resort city on the Caribbean side of Colombia, on Sunday while trying to leave the country, Suyanto told reporters in Jakarta, saying he had received the information from the Indonesian ambassador to Colombia, who had gone to Cartagena and met with the suspect.

Nazaruddin was reportedly demanding a full-time escort, probably to protect him from individuals who might want to shut him up. Yudhoyono, Suyanto said, has been informed, has instructed that the suspect’s safety be guarded carefully and that he be brought back to Indonesia for questioning.

Representatives from the Indonesian Immigration Office, National Police, Corruption Eradication Commission and Foreign Ministry were leaving for Colombia on Monday evening or Tuesday morning to verify the suspect’s identity, Suyanto told reporters.

Nazaruddin continues a tradition of Indonesian politicians or witnesses who take it on the lam. Nunun Nurbaeti, the key witness in a bribery case, decamped several months ago for Singapore, reportedly being treated for a mysterious disease that kept her from remembering anything at all. She was last reported somewhere in Cambodia, having used an Indonesian passport to pass through immigration.

Then there was the case of Gayus Tambunan, Indonesia’s traveling taxman, who fled for Singapore in April of 2010 amid charges related to giving as much as US$1 billion in illegal tax breaks to companies owned by Aburizal Bakrie, the head of the Golkar Party and one of the country’s richest men. He was later found to have bribed his way out of jail 68 times, flying to China, Malaysia and Singapore on "holiday.” He turned up once in Bali to watch a tennis match, where he was photographed wearing a wig and glasses by an alert Jakarta Globe photographer

Nazaruddin, however, is a special example. He has pretty much single-handedly wrecked the Democrat Party’s image as a reform party and damaged Yudhoyono’s own image. Political analysts in Jakarta say the scandal could have a serious effect on national elections scheduled for 2014 and leave the party, currently the biggest in Indonesia’s House of Representatives, vulnerable to attacks by other major parties including Golkar, headed by Bakrie, and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, headed by Megawati Sukarnoputri. Former Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati is also expected to enter the fray as a reformer, although her chances could be limited by the fact that she yet has no major party machinery behind her.

Yudhoyono has sought to limit the damage, calling for a cleanup in party ranks and saying the party’s reputation, image and dignity had to come before anything else, calling for party leaders to stop attacking each other, and pledging to lead a drive to get rid of members suspected of legal or ethical problems. However, if errant party members are expelled and referred to an ethics tribunal, as Yudhoyono demanded, the odds that they will turn on each other are quite high.

In the meantime, the Corruption Eradication Commission, one of whose own deputies was accused of being caught in the scandal, is sending representatives along with the national police and others to interrogate Nazaruddin. The KPK, as the organization is known by its Indonesian-language initials, is in no mood to fool around, having had its own image of incorruptibility wounded by Nazaruddin’s allegations.