Indonesia's Graft Watchdog Goes for the Big Ones
Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission, which has in the past been accused of tenaciously nailing lesser figures but leaving the big players alone, has shown a new aggressiveness in recent weeks, taking on the National Police and one of the country’s most prominent socialites.
The commission, known by its Indonesian language acronym KPK, has detained the former traffic police chief turned graft suspect, Insp. Gen. Djoko Susilo, in what optimists say could signal the beginning of a cleanup of the force. It also some time ago netted Siti Hartati Murdaya Poo, the wife of one of the country’s richest ethnic Chinese industrialists, Murdaya Poo, who is ranked by Forbes as the 19th richest person in the country. Siti Hartati is a businesswoman in her own right and is also the chairwoman of the Indonesian Buddhist Association.
Siti Hartati also played a major role in funding the first presidential race of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2004, and her prosecution is one sign of Yudhoyono’s fading fortunes as the end of his second and final term approaches in 2014.
In the last year, the president has also found a number of his closest political allies under investigation for involvement in the financing of a scandal-ridden athletes’ village for the 2011 Southeast Asian Games. Former Democratic Party treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin, who has been jailed on bribery charges, on Tuesday submitted documents to the KPK that allegedly prove that party chairman Anas Urbaningrum and secretary general Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono – the president’s youngest son were aware of the flow of corruption-tainted funds.
The move marks the first time that the president’s son has been publicly tied to the many corruption scandals dogging the ruling party.
Having the KPK go after hitherto untouchable police generals and tycoons is uncharted territory for Indonesia and is a major test of the body’s staying power. With Edhie Baskoro’s name now in the mix, it is hard to say where this might lead.
The KPK has compiled an astonishing 100 percent conviction rate since the organization’s establishment in 2002, pulling down cases of bribery and graft involving government procurement, budgets and other murky business inside the opaque Indonesian bureaucracy. Lawmakers, judges, government officials and a handful of lower level businessmen have been jailed, and perhaps 20,000 cases have been reported to the agency, which is overwhelmed by the magnitude of the job.
Gong after the police is a big step forward. The National Police are considered one of Indonesia’s most corrupt institutions, and one that so far has been largely unassailable. In mid-2010, two KPK officials were arrested and charged with abuse of office after they tapped the telephones of Susno Duadji, then the National Police Chief of Detectives, for allegedly conspiring to quash a bribery investigation into the activities of a fugitive businessman.
Ultimately, the two KPK investigators were ordered freed after widespread public protest. In the wake of that squabble, the KPK has largely left the police alone.
However, on Monday they detained Djoko after an eight-hour interrogation over his alleged receipt of a Rp2 billion (US$208,000) kickback to award a Rp198 billion contract for driving simulators to an unqualified company. The KPK has named three other suspects in the case, including former traffic unit deputy director Brig. Gen. Didik Purnomo, Inovasi Teknologi Indonesia president Sukotjo Bambang and Citra Mandiri Metalindo Abadi president director Budi Susanto. The latter two are from the project’s winning contractors, while none of the three are currently in custody.
“This is the first time the KPK has taken on the cops and they seem to be turning the tide,” said a long-time western political observer in Jakarta. "With popular disappointment rising against President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and traditional politics generally, the KPK looks stronger.”
Analysts in Jakarta say the Djoko mess could finally lead to some progress against what is probably the most corrupt agency in the country. If the KPK can gain more traction against big wigs, the political elite in the country could grow more nervous.
The case of Siti Hartati is equally significant. She is the highest elite business person ever dragged into the KPK. Her case has caused serious concern among Chinese tycoon families, many of whom have amassed their fortunes through being close to government officials in an environment in which payoffs to various officials are common.
She has been accused of bribing an official in the central Sulawesi district of Buol in an effort to obtain concessions for a palm oil company. She was previously thought to be under Yudhoyono’s protection due to her role in his election campaign.
She was also a member of the Democratic Party’s advisory board and a member of the highly influential National Economic Commission, a presidential advisory board of wealthy tycoons. She was named the sixth most influential woman in Indonesia in a Globe Asia magazine poll and is a former lawmaker who was instrumental in passing an anti-racial discrimination law.
Siti Hartati has denied the charges and resigned from her various posts. Her husband, who started out selling newspapers, now has interests in IT, timber, consumer goods and engineering. He is the majority owner of Jakarta's biggest convention center, the site of more than 100 events a year. She faces up to five years in prison.
“People are really sick of the sleaze,” said a political observer. “I think the KPK may be getting too strong and popular to be stopped. The ultimate beneficiary could be a potential presidential reform candidate in 2014.”
So far, no such candidate has emerged although retired Gen. Prabowo Subianto, the head of the Gerindra Party and currently the leading presidential candidate for 2014, is seizing on the corruption issue as one of a number of populist planks in his platform. While he was a Suharto-era general, the one-time son-in-law of the late strongman, has recast himself as an unlikely reformer.