Indonesia's Traveling Taxman Gets Seven Years

The South Jakarta District Court Wednesday gave Indonesia's traveling taxman Gayus Tambunan a seven year jail term and a Rp300 million (US$33,150) fine Wednesday, inciting outrage across the country for a relative slap on the wrist in a case that has shaken the country's legal institutions to the core.

On Monday, Tambunan's case had drawn so much attention that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was forced to call for a full investigation. It bears particular significance for Aburizal Bakrie, the head of the Golkar political party, three of whose companies are suspected of having evaded as much as US$1 billion in taxes, according to a story on Jan. 14 in the Financial Times. Bakrie, one of the country's richest businessmen, is expected to run to replace Yudhoyono in the next national elections, expected in 2014.

However, despite the heat on the country's law enforcement institutions, the verdict was limited to the scope of the indictment prepared by the prosecution team and didn't touch on the source of the Rp28 million (US$3 million) found in Tambunan's bank accounts. The civil servant, a midlevel tax official, is suspected of turning a blind eye to tax evasions by as many as 149 companies. The fact that he defendant had never been convicted – although he bribed his way out of previous charges – has little children who need his care, and is still young and is expected to change his attitudes after serving his sentence were cited as mitigating factors.

The case has become a major embarrassment to Indonesia, whose judiciary, prosecution, national police, prison system, immigration ministry and other institutions have been tarnished, as has Yudhoyono's reputation as a reformer. . Tambunan was 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.

"There is no 'enough' or 'not enough' for any justice or sentences or law making in Indonesia,” one outraged respondent wrote on the Jakarta Globe's Facebook page. "He probably will pay a surrogate to replace him, if not then he surely able to go out and go in whenever he wishes. Probably even shopping at Plaza Senayan, having beer at Loewy's, playing golf or even just going out to Singapore out of boredom of his large-apartment-like jail.”

The tax official was found guilty of bribing a judge and law enforcers, resulting in his acquittal last March in his first, controversial trial, in which the prosecution dropped the money laundering and corruption charges and went on only with a minor embezzlement charge unrelated to his huge bank accounts.

The court also convicted Tambunan of misusing his authority in accepting tax complaints filed by Sidoarjo- based seafood company PT Surya Alam Tunggal, causing the tax directorate to refund payments and inflict a loss of Rp 570 million to the state.

"Despite the finding of another suspected crime, such as the Rp 28 billion bank accounts, the panel of judges in delivering the conviction refer only to what is outlined in the indictment and what is proven in court," presiding judge Albertina Ho said.

"It's so ironic, news about old women sent to jail because of stealing fruit,” said Elizabeth Sinta Hapsari. "And look at Gayus being a suspect but he easily travels to Bali after corruption of more than 10 million dollars in cash. Look, you can see justice not working in this country, and see how money can buy anything including justice."

With reporting by Jakarta Globe