Questions over Nazaruddin's Return to Indonesia

Muhammad Nazaruddin, the fugitive former treasurer of the Democrat Party led by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, arrived in Jakarta Saturday aboard a 12-passenger Gulfstream jet that for unknown reasons stopped six times en route from Bogota, Colombia and landed 17 hours late.

Given Nazaruddin’s status as Indonesia’s most celebrated current fugitive, all of those stops are raising a multitude of questions. O.C. Kaligis, Nazauruddin’s lead lawyer, complained that he hadn’t been given access to his client in Bogota or allowed on the plane with him, and that the team that went to pick him up might be trying to change his testimony. Kaligis also asked why he had been prevented from seeing Nazaruddin in Bogota, where he had flown to try to get his client to sign a request for political asylum.

Johan Budi, a spokesman for the Corruption Eradication Commission, said the agency hadn’t banned people from visiting Nazaruddin and that in fact he had given officials the names of five or six people who were allowed to visit – all family members. “He does not wish to meet anyone else,” Budi said.

After a mob of reporters and others met the airplane as it touched down, Nazaruddin was transferred to the Mobile Brigade headquarters detention facility in Jakarta. His cousin, Muhammad Nasir, told reporters Monday that the former treasurer was refusing to eat because he was afraid of being poisoned.

Nazaruddin fled Indonesia in May ahead of being fired by Yudhoyono as treasurer. He has been accused of extorting bribes in relation to the construction of an athlete’s village in the city of Palembang in South Sumatra for this year’s Southeast Asian Games, scheduled for next month. He is also accused of offering a “friendship gift” of US$96,000 to the secretary general of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court, for reasons that are unclear.

Nazaruddin left the country legally on his own passport, allegedly to seek medical treatment in Singapore, after meeting with Yudhoyono, raising suspicions that he had been allowed to go to shut him up. As he movedfrom country to country, Indonesian law enforcement officials seemed to be doing their best to not find him,

Nazaruddin made a series of spectacular accusations in interviews via Twitter, Skype and the telephone that the party chairman, Anas Rubaningrum, and Andi Mallarangeng, the Youth and Sports Minister, were involved in the corrupt transactions over the athlete’s village. He also accused a deputy commissioner of the heretofore incorruptible Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its Indonesian initials KPK, of being on the take as well.

Bloggers in Indonesia have also hinted that members of Yudhoyono’s own family might be ensnared in the scandal, something the president has denied angrily. Nonetheless, the entire affair has gone a long way towards destroying the Democrat Party in advance of the elections scheduled for 2014 and has added to the tarnish on Yudhoyono’s faltering reputation as a reformer. The Democrats lead a ruling coalition of 314 seats in the 560 House of Representatives – 150 of which are held by the Democrats themselves, others by minor parties. Golkar holds 125 seats and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, with 95. Given the disarray in the Democrat leadership and the growing public disgust with the allegations of corruption spread loudly by Nazaruddin, the party faces serious problems. Some are predicting the party's collapse.

Some observers have expressed astonishment that Nazaruddin has in effect broken with the political elite to bare allegations of corruption against the leaders. Actually, however, it seems more to be a peculiarly Indonesian way of doing business. But there is a history to this

One of the most recent episodes involved Gayus Tambunan, another traveling fugitive, a mid-ranking tax official who beat it for Singapore after bribing his way out of a court case. Finally lured home, he was jailed, only to go walkabout from prison a recorded 68 times to visit countries as far away as China before he was spotted at a tennis match in Bali, wearing a wig and glasses.

Jailed again, Tambunan volunteered to blow the whistle on 149 Indonesian companies that he said were evading taxes, including three controlled by Aburizal Bakrie, one of the country’s richest men and the head of the Golkar Party, the second biggest today after Yudhoyono’s Democrats. Bakrie, it was alleged, had managed to evade a whopping US$1 billion in taxes with Tambunan’s help.

Ultimately, Tambunan was given just seven years in jail and a RP300 million (US$33,150) fine. He is expected to be out in four years if not earlier. Almost none of the companies Tambunan threatened to name were ever prosecuted.

Likewise, Susno Duadji, on the run for taking bribes as the chief of detectives for Indonesia’s National Police, later publicly accused his fellow generals of acting as brokers in Tambunan’s original money-laundering case. He delivered the claims during a House of Representatives hearing in 2010 amid predictions that his accusations would shake the very foundations of the police force, one of Indonesia’s most corrupt institutions.

Unfortunately, Duadji was tried and convicted of accepting bribes in a fish-farm dispute and stealing election security funds when he as West Java police chief. He was given three and a half years in jail. While two officers, a judge and two prosecutors were jailed because of his accusations, top police officers said to be deeply involved remain unnamed and un-prosecuted.

So whether Nazaruddin’s charges go beyond what has already been said remains to be seen. The real question is whether the 17 missing hours and six stops were waypoints in doing a deal to shut Nazaruddin up. There are questions over the whereabouts of his wife, Neneng Sri Wahyuni, who had been named a suspect in a bribery case involving a Rp3.8 billion (US$445,000) solar project in which the wife reportedly acted as a broker

Police officials said she had been with Nazaruddin when he was arrested in the Colombia coastal city of Cartagena. Supposedly she was to arrive in Jakarta with the officials who brought Nazaruddin back. However, she wasn’t on the plane. Statements from law enforcement officials differ on her whereabouts, and why she wasn’t brought back.