Indonesia's National Police Embarrassed Again

Indonesia's notoriously corrupt National Police are back in hot water after a former tax official supposedly under lock and key while awaiting trial for corruption and bribery charges was photographed by a sharp-eyed Jakarta Globe photographer at a Bali tennis match.

The publication of the Globe's photos of Gayus Tambunan, wearing a wig and eyeglasses, led to nearly a week of denials that Tambunan, a mid-ranking official who is accused of paying billions of rupiah in bribes to judges, prosecutors and police, had ever been out of his prison cell. Adj. Cmdr Ketut Budiman said in a text message to reporters: "Where do these rumors come from? Gayus is still inside his cell and I have confirmed this with the security unit. This allegation is totally groundless."

Another official said Tambunan was "in the custody of the district court and any leave by the defendant must first be approved by prosecutors."

Tambunan's lawyer said it couldn't have been him at the tennis match because he is a football fan and doesn't care for tennis, despite the fact that his opulent home in a Jakarta suburb boasts a tennis court. Indonesia's Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center discovered that Tambunan regularly transferred about Rp50 million (US$5,600) a month from his bank account while in detention.

Despite the fact that Tambunan had been caught red-handed at the Bali tennis match,

Insp. Gen. Iskandar Hasan, a police spokesman, said detectives were still investigating whether he was actually in Bali.

"We're still investigating whether Gayus went out to seek medication or returned to his home," he said. "I hope he didn't go to Bali."

Eventually this week, red-faced police were forced to announce that the chief warden and eight guards at the police's Mobile Brigade headquarters, where Tambunan supposedly had been held, had been suspended and will be charged. Media reported that the warden admitted to receiving payments to allow the accused official to leave his cell at will.

The National Police have weathered a long string of scandals in 2010, several of them involving Tambunan. Transparency International Indonesia estimates that more than half of all interactions with police are believed to involve the payment of bribes. Part of the problem, in addition to an ingrained culture of corruption, stems from the fact that police officials earn so little money. Public service salaries amount to only Rp2 million (US$210) per month.

But any impetus to clean up the force appeared to be put on hold by the October appointment by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Jakarta Police Chief Timur Pradopo as national police chief. While at the very top police officials earn only about Rp15 million, or about US$1,600 per month, Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission said Pradopo's net worth exceeded at least Rp2.1 billion (US$235,000) as of 2008, primarily invested in real estate in the upscale Tangerang area of Jakarta, valued at Rp1.3 billion, which he said was inherited.

Photo: Jakarta Globe Pradopo also owns four cars worth Rp340 million, with the rest of his wealth in cash, bank deposits and precious stones and metals, said the corruption eradication commission, known by its Indonesian language acronym KPK.

In March, Susno Duadji, formerly the head of detectives, was caught by the country's anti-corruption agency for helping key officials caught up in the notorious Bank Century scandal to flee the country. The National Police responded by attempting to charge two of the anti-corruption officials with abuse of power. When tape recordings surfaced of conversations between police and the attorney general planning the frame-up, they were forced to back away from the charges.

Forced out of his position, Susno turned on his mates, accusing three police officials of taking bribes from Tambunan to bury a criminal probe after the official was discovered to have Rp28 billion (US$3.1 million) in his bank account and to be living in a sumptuous estate that also boasted a jogging track, basketball court, swimming pool and other features in addition to the swimming pool.

That case has since ensnared the Attorney General's Office, top officials of the National Police and the Tangerang District Court as well the Directorate General of Taxation and a number of companies. That is because, despite the revelations, the Tangerang District Court acquitted Tambunan of embezzlement on March 12 and he promptly left Jakarta for Singapore with Susno sounding the alarm. Tambunan surrendered to police in Singapore. Brig. Gen. Radja Erisman, the director of economic crimes, was also believed to have been implicated by Susno, partly because he unfroze Tambunan's bank accounts, which allowed him to flee.

Two more police officials were also named as suspects after it turned out that they questioned Tambunan in the relaxed atmosphere of Jakarta hotels rather than at National Police headquarters during the earlier probe of the tax official. One of the two is said to have received a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a Toyota Fortuner SUV and a house from Tambunan, a police source said.

Then, in July the police were embarrassed again when a group of mystery buyers frantically swooped down on news venders in Jakarta and attempted to buy up all the copies of the highly respected Tempo magazine in an effort to silence a story about six top national police officials with millions of dollars in unexplained funds in their bank accounts. Rather than investigating how the officials had amassed so much wealth, the police threatened to sue Tempo and whoever leaked the details of the accounts to a reform organization that passed them on to the magazine. The magazine responded by printing another 30,000 copies, which sold out immediately. After that, unknown parties on a motorcycle attempted to firebomb the magazine's offices.