The Crimebuster and the Caddy

See also: Indonesia's Ceaseless Corruption Campaign

Indonesia has been absolutely agog for nearly a week over allegations that the chief of what arguably is the country’s most-respected public institution, the Corruption Eradication Commission, ordered the gangland-style slaying of a business executive who police say was his rival for the sexual favors of a female golf caddy.

Antasari Azhar, 56, who heads what is known widely here as the KPK, was arrested Monday and named by police as “the mastermind” in the March 14 murder of Nasrudin Zulkarnaen, the 41-year-old head of a state-owned pharmaceutical company. Two gunmen on motorbikes flanked Nasrudin’s car and shot him in the head as he was leaving the Modernland Golf Course outside Jakarta, where 23-year-old Rani Juliani had once been a caddy.

Rani, who is said to have been Nasrudin's mistress and also the lover of Antasari, is now under police protection.

Nasrudin’s lawyer, Bonyamin Saiman, told a news conference shortly after Antasari was named by the police that his client’s murder was likely to have been sparked by an affair. “It is suspected that the motive is a love triangle. A mistress of Mr Nasrudin also had special relations with Antasari Azhar,” Bonyamin said.

To say the stories have been lurid is an understatement. The real-life drama makes the country's cinetron soap operas pale by comparison. Nine people have been jailed so far on allegations of complicity at every level from Antasari to the hit men. Some reports indicate gunmen tried to rub out Nasrudin on the way to Jakarta's airport before they finally got him at the golf course entrance.

The country’s leaky law enforcement agencies have been rattling media walls with tales of confessions, videos of sexual activity and a possible honey trap sprung on Antasari by Nasrudin with the apparent cooperation of the beautiful Rani.

According to some accounts, Nasrudin, a political appointee to the state pharma company with no executive experience, had surreptitiously filmed the anti-graft czar in bed with his caddy lover and planned to use it against him. Other accounts say still pictures have surfaced of the tryst.

Beyond the sheer wonder of how a man in Antasari's position could end up in such an amazing tangle of intrigue is the very real political fallout that could result from the crime. While Antasari is not known to b a close ally of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyo, the corruption watchdog agency is a vital part of his appeal to voters in a reelection year with claims that he is busy ridding the country of sleaze and graft.

Stand By Your Man

But without a doubt it is the sex and the sizzle that is selling the story in Jakarta.

Businessmen plying Indonesia’s golf courses routinely notice that beautiful young women, like Rani, are employed as caddies — and they are not just there to hand over the sand wedge for a tough bunker shot. In fact their presence — they even wink and wave to golfers as they pull up to a course, as if they were bar hostesses — might go some distance towards explaining the phenomenal popularity of a slow-moving game played in the blazing tropical sun by wealthy middle-aged men. According to the Jakchat Blog’s version of events, which is described as “hastily plagiarized and maybe wildly inaccurate,” Rani was a top caddy “and had many bookings, mostly by state officials, who were known to tip generously. Some of the course’s top caddies could charge up to Rp500,000 (US$47.45) for a round (of golf), but Rani was the most expensive, able to charge Rp1 million.”

Antasari’s wife, Ida Laksmiwati, is standing by the accused, however, appearing on television Sunday to denounce the allegations and say they were a result of Antasari’s high-profile leadership of the anti-corruption agency.

“This kind of situation is a common occurrence for my husband,” Laksmiwati told reporters. “Whatever happens to my husband, I have faith in him. I believe everything he says.”

What Happens to the Agency?

The jailing has also raised immediate concerns among reform activists who say the KPK must maintain or even increase its level of activity. Acivists held an impromptu rally at the KPK headquarters on Monday, even drawing a rock n roll band called Slank to the festivities.

“We are like cheerleaders supporting the KPK’s fight against corruption,” said Adnan Topan Husodo, deputy for political affairs at Indonesian Corruption Watch, Monday. “The KPK is now facing a terrible ordeal, and we want the KPK to maintain and increase the level of success it has had and prove that the [murder] case will not slow them down,” he said.

Antasari’s duties have been taken over by four deputies who have pledged to continue operations against government-linked corruption. Set up in 2003 in the dying days of the Megawati Sukarnoputri presidency, the agency has surprised the country with its high-profile pursuit of offenders who have been hauled off to jail.

While some critics say Antasari has played favorites and deliberately stayed away from some big cases, hardly a day goes by without the newspapers reporting on yet another luckless politician or businessman who has been dragged into the dock. The KPK has arrested and prosecuted successfully nine members of parliament, a former national police chief, three ambassadors, a senior prosecutor and three central bank officials including the former governor, Burhanuddin Abdullah, as well as the bank’s deputy governor, and has reclaimed a scorching Rp3 trillion (US$284 billion) in ill-gotten gains, a KPK official told Asia Sentinel.

It has played a major role in the public perception of Yudhoyono as a political reformer, despite the fact that the body is not responsible to either the government or parliament.

It also seems to have functioned largely independently of Antasari himself, who was appointed chairman of the KPK in 2007 by the House of Representatives, then dominated by the corruption-wracked Golkar Party, the former legislative pet rock for the late President Suharto, who was deposed in 1998.

Anti-corruption activists accuse Antasari of having a less than stellar career as a public prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office, including having facilitated the temporary 2000 disappearance of Hutomo “Tommy” Mandala Putra, Suharto’s son, after Tommy was sentenced to 18 months in jail for corruption. But Antasari later turned on the office attorney general’s office, with a hard-hitting KPK probe that resulted in the jailing of three prosecutors.

Antasari’s swift arrest, some say, may even be an act of vengeance by the attorney general’s office. Indeed, the attorney general's office jumped the gun and announced their former colleague's suspect status with what appeared to be ill-concealed glee last week, despite the fact that it was up to the police, not prosecutors, to make such an announcement.

Many members of the House of Representatives and others who could face the broad powers of the KPK would like nothing better than to emasculate the unit. The arrest of the boss could add fuel to that fire. Although the KPK is a permanent body that can’t be wiped out, enabling legislation is now before the House to maintain the special court that handles KPK cases.

“We are very worried about that,” Haryano Umar, the KPK’s deputy chairman, told Asia Sentinel. “The legislation is still at the parliament, and they are working on it, discussing it, and hopefully it will be released by the end of the year. If it is not, we will have a big problem.”

Indonesia’s regular courts, widely regarded as corrupt, have a conviction rate of less than half their cases. The KPK has convicted every miscreant it has dragged before the special court.

Will the agency be able to function with its chairman in jail? Haryano says it’s not a problem. The duties will be rotated among the remaining four deputies. Currently, decisions to prosecute suspects are taken “collegially and collectively,” Haryano says, so that no single deputy can stop or start a prosecution.

As to public perceptions, he says, “I don’t think there is a big impact. I think so far the public is with us.”

Indeed. Indonesia’s anti-corruption activists say that with Antasari out of the way, the KPK can now begin to go after the really big fish. For instance, they say, there are the bankers who fled to Singapore in the wake of the Asian Financial Crisis with tens of billions of dollars in funds meant to recapitalize the country’s then-failed banks. They have never been prosecuted.

In the meantime, there will almost certainly be more revelations in a case that seems likely to turn into a form of long-running national theatre. There will be a trial to follow, testimony from the golf caddy and certainly some explanation from Antasari himself at some point.

And those pictures from the hotel, if they exist. Don't forget the pictures.

See also: Indonesia's Ceaseless Corruption Campaign