Indonesia's Nazaruddin Case: Dead End?

The corruption case against Muhammad Nazaruddin, the former fugitive treasurer of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party, is unlikely ever to be resolved because it threatens so many powerful officials, a Prosperous Justice Party official said Monday.

It appears likely that Nazaruddin will take his secrets to prison with him. He has feared for his safety ever since he was spirited out of the Colombian coastal resort city of Cartagena in July aboard a private plane instead of being put on a much cheaper commercial flight. The private jet made several stops along the way despite the fact it had the range to make it in one or two hops. Nazaruddin’s allies also made public a letter he sent a letter to Yudhoyono saying he would shut up in exchange for the safety of his family.

That the case is unlikely to go higher unfortunately is not a particularly earthshaking statement in Indonesia, a country where a long series of scandals has been swept under the carpet to protect top political and business figures. Criticism of the government’s efforts to combat corruption has been rising, with perceptions about Yudhoyono’s ability to fight sleaze sliding badly from a high of 84 in October 2009.

A poll published in October by the Indonesia Survey Circle (LSI) among 1,200 respondents in all 33 Indonesian provinces on how they regard their politicians found 51 percent believe politicians are doing a poor or very poor job, with 25 percent not bothering to even comment. A majority even believe the situation was better under the strongman Suharto, who fell from power in 1999 after a monumentally corrupt reign that featured allegations that his family stole billions of US dollars.

The statement about the case, by Prosperous Justice lawmaker Abubakar, was fueled by numerous reports making the rounds on the Internet alleging that Nazaruddin’s company, PT Anugerah Nusantara, paid hundreds of millions of rupiah to police officials between 2006 and 2008, well prior to the current scandal.

The reports alleged that there are ties between Nazaruddin and Timur Pradopo, the National Police chief. PT Anugerah Nusantara was said to have been awarded contracts linked to the police including the construction of a police academy in Banten that at the time was headed by Pradopo.

“I think Nazaruddin’s case touches on many important figures, so I am pessimistic that this case will ever be settled,” Abubakar Al Habsyi said. The Prosperous Justice Party, an Islamist party, is a member of the ruling coalition led by Yudhoyono’s Democrats.

Abubakar al Habsyi said that if evidence showed the involvement of the police chief, the case should be handed over to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), arguably Indonesia’s most incorruptible public agency, so it could open an independent and transparent investigation into the allegations.

“We do not want the Nazaruddin case to be settled under the table,” Abubakar said. Nazaruddin’s lawyer, Afrian Bondjol, said he had no information of Pradopo’s involvement in any case related to his client.

Nazaruddin is the key figure in a scandal alleged to involve many members of Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party including Anas Urbangingrum, the party chairman, who had been considered one of the party’s reformers. The president’s own son, Eddie Baskoro Yudhoyono, is also alleged to be involved, according to Twitter and Facebook messages making the rounds.

Nazaruddin fled Indonesia for Singapore earlier this year after a meeting with top Democratic Party officials to seek “medical help.” It was widely assumed that he had been warned to get out of the country ahead of a summons by the KPK, which had been looking into bribery allegations over the athetes’ village being built for the Southeast Asian Games in the southern Sumatra city of Palembang.

Although trillions of rupiah in taxpayer funds been poured into the games, they began to go sour last May when hurriedly left the country for a day before he was due to be banned from traveling allegedly because he had accepted US$3 million in bribes on tenders for the construction of the village facilities. He was ultimately found in Cartagena, Colombia, and returned to Indonesia.

The scandal has spread beyond the Democratic Party, with members of the House of Representatives Budget Committee facing questioning as well, including Malchias Marcus Mekeng of Golkar, Olly Dondokambey of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and Tamsil Linrung of the Prosperous Justice Party. Mirwan, the budget committee deputy chairman, who was named by Nazaruddin as one of those who had allegedly assisted in rigging the bid for the contract for PT Duta Graha Indah for the village.

Private citizens have been caught up in the scandal as well, with stockbroker Mindo Rosalina Manulang being jailed for four years and businessman Muhammad El Idris for three and a half. The two were arrested in April after delivering Rp3.2 billion ($374,000) in checks to the ministry’s secretary, Wafid Muharram, who has been suspended.

KPK chairman Busyro Muqoddas has said that another politician will be named a suspect in the case, though he has declined to identify anyone.

Although Nazaruddin identified Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) lawmaker I Wayan Koster as one of many who took bribes in connection with the construction of the atheletes’ village, Koster has denied it. Koster, who serves on the House of Representatives Budget Committee, said he did not think he would be named a suspect, Nazaruddin was also a former member of the House Budget Committee.