Indonesia's Judicial Flying Circus

It seemed to be the kind of headline that could only appear in an Indonesian newspaper:

"Final 15 Lawmakers in Miranda Case Finally Stand Trial,” read a recent edition of the Jakarta Globe.

But indeed, not only were 15 former members of Indonesia's House of Representatives on trial in five separate hearings for accepting bribes, another 11 for a total of 26 have been ensnared in a case involving a vote for Miranda Goeltom, a 61-year-old economist who was appointed a senior deputy governor of Bank Indonesia, the country's central bank, in 2004 over two other candidates. Nor is that all. According to a tally by Asia News, 51 lawmakers from the Ninth Commission of the House of Representatives alone, which oversees banking affairs, have been accused of corruption for various reasons. That is nearly 10 percent of the house, which has 560 members.

The trials are notable for a variety of reasons. They not only include the astonishing numbers of corrupt politicians in the dock but the fact that the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK (its Indonesian language acronym) is incorruptible enough to catch them, that they appear in court meekly -- and that the marathon trials are not bothering to mention who bribed them or why. Sirra Prayuna, a lawyer for one lawmaker under questioning, told reporters it was important to find out the reason the money was given.

"There is no rule that bans state officials from receiving something as long as it does not break the law," Prayuna said. "But until now, we do not know the real purpose of the one who gave the money." Nor is that question likely to be answered.

The bribes seem to have been spread equally between members of the Democrat party, headed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Golkar, headed by businessman Aburizal Bakrie, and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), headed by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri. President Yudhoyono has sternly promised to discipline any members of his party who are convicted of corruption.

The case was broken open originally by a former member of Megawati's PDI-P named Agus Condro Prayitno. Prayitno told KPK officials he and dozens of other lawmakers had received billions of rupiah to guarantee Goeltom's re-election as deputy governor. Prayitno, also suspected of corruption, told the court he had decided to disclose the facts to clear his conscience and added that he had returned the ill-gotten funds.

Goeltom, who has since left the central bank, apparently is not under threat of indictment because there is no proof that she knew bribes were being paid to install her in office, although she was called to the Anti-Corruption Court this week to answer questions. She said it had been four years since she had seen Nunun Nurbaeti Daradjatun, considered the missing link in the case. Nurbaeti is a businesswoman and wife of former Deputy National Police Chief Adang Daradjatun, who is now a member of Parliament for the pro-Islamic PKS party.

Nurbaeti, nonetheless said to be an associate of Goeltom's, has been identified as having delivered the bagfuls of checks to the lawmakers' offices. However, she has since fled to Singapore, citing a mysterious illness that rendered her incapable of remembering anything. She has subsequently ignored several summonses from the KPK while her lawyer, Ina Rachman, claims she is being treated for an illness that causes memory loss, which has become a running joke in political circles.

Rachman, however, says claims that her client was not ill are false. "She is still ill. According to her family, her condition is deteriorating and there's nothing they can do,” Rachman told reporters in Jakarta.

According to testimony in the various trials, some 480 travelers' checks totaling Rp24 billion (US$2.8 million) were handed out to lawmakers, who claimed they thought the money was campaign contributions that weren't linked to any particular legislative action.

The travelers' checks were purchased by a company called First Mujur, a palm oil company, from Artha Graha Bank. Both First Mujur and Artha Graha are subsidiaries of the Artha Graha Group, owned by a Sumatran businessman named Tommy Winata. The checks, according to testimony, were delivered in paper sacks to some lawmakers, color-coded envelopes to others. Officials from First Mujur told the KPK said they had no idea how the checks had ended up the hands of the lawmakers. They had been purchased to finance a palm oil plantation project, they said. Although the names of the bank and the palm oil company have been made public, Winata's name has not been mentioned in the trial, and it is unlikely that it will be. He is considered too powerful to mess with.

Dudhie Makmun Murod. formerly a lawmaker with the PDI-P who is now serving a two-year sentence for taking Rp500 million ($58,000) to vote for Goeltom and who has agreed to tell all, told the Anti-Corruption Court in April that he had been ordered to pick up the money by a senior party official. He went to a restaurant near the House, he said, where he met with an aide to Nurbaeti, who handed him an envelope.

"We shook hands, introduced ourselves. then he handed me the envelope and I left," Murod told the court. He then was told by a senior PDI-P official who told him to "distribute it to the others." Two other PDI-P lawmakers who each received Rp200 million have not been charged.

In another trial last week, Paskah Suzetta, a former lawmaker and state minister for national development planning, faced the court with four fellow members of the Golkar Party, all of whom were said to have taken between Rp250 million and Rp600 million in bribes each.

"Paskah, who was chairman of Commission IX [which oversees population] told everyone in a Golkar faction meeting that they were going to support Miranda,” KPK Prosecutor Suwarji told the court, reading from the indictment. Golkar officials, he said, later met with Goeltom's associate, Ahmad Hakim Safari, who delivered the bribes for each political party in paper bags, using different colored parcels based on party colors, for the PDI-P, Golkar and United Development Party (PPP), as well as members of the now defunct police and military faction, prosecutors added.

Despite all of the confessions and all the prosecutorial statements, nobody yet has asked or told why it was so important to get Goeltom reelected. It would be a real advance in Indonesian jurisprudence if that were to happen. It would not be wise to bet on it, however.