Sunday, April 25, 2010

Singapore no longer a safe haven for Indonesian Graft Suspects

Spotlight on Pursuit of Indonesian Graft Suspects Overseas
Mas Achmad Santosa shot a smile when he recalled his “miracle” trip to Singapore last month to pick up Indonesia’s most wanted man, Gayus Tambunan.

Along with Denny Indrayana, a fellow member of the presidentially-appointed Judicial Mafia Eradication Task Force, Mas Achmad had been asked by the National Police’s chief detective, Comr. Gen. Ito Sumardi, to join what was essentially a fishing expedition in the hopes of catching the fugitive tax official.

“I rushed back home to pack my bag and grabbed my passport,” Mas Achmad said.

Hours later, despite the fact that Singapore is a well-known safe haven for Indonesian tycoons on the run, Mas Achmad and his law enforcement colleagues came to believe in miracles. The team was walking around Orchard Road, the city-state’s busy shopping district, when they saw Gayus at the Lucky Plaza mall.

“I know it sounds too good to be true, but that’s what really happened,” Mas Achmad told the Jakarta Globe, addressing public skepticism about their coincidental meeting. “We were originally at Lucky Plaza looking for hats to cover up our faces, when Denny said, ‘It would be cool if we ran into Gayus here.’ And I said, ‘Amen to that.’ ”

Their prayers were answered within a few minutes, when they spotted Gayus in the mall’s food court, looking for dinner for his family. The task force members confronted Gayus and the process of persuasion began.

“We called Ito Sumardi and told him that we had found the fugitive,” Mas Achmad said.

“The next few hours were crucial in trying to convince Gayus to return to Indonesia to deal with the legal process,” he added. “We told him it was better to deal with it at home instead of in a foreign country like Singapore.”

An Unusual Success

Gayus burst into the spotlight last month when Comr. Gen. Susno Duadji, the controversial former chief detective at the National Police, accused three senior police officials of taking bribes from the tax official to bury a corruption case against him.

Despite only being a mid-level tax official, Gayus was able to amass a fortune at the Directorate General of Taxation by allegedly serving as a case broker, helping clients win favorable outcomes at the Tax Tribunal.

Despite having Rp 28 billion ($3.1 million) in two bank accounts, Gayus managed to get the police to unfreeze his money and was acquitted by the Tangerang District Court on March 12 on the relatively minor charge of embezzlement, on the grounds of “insufficient evidence.”

The case barely registered with the public until Susno rang the alarm bells shortly after the acquittal. And as if on cue, Gayus fled the country on March 24. Red-faced National Police officials were forced to admit to an angry public two days later that their target had escaped to the island state, which has no extradition treaty with Indonesia.

Other notable fugitive corruption suspects believed to be residing in Singapore, or at least using it as a base, include businessmen Sukanto Tanoto, Sjamsul Nursalim, Joko S Tjandra, Anggoro Widjojo and former Bank Century shareholders Hesyam Al Warraq and Rafat Ali Rizvi.

The prevailing public view is that Indonesian authorities allowed the fugitives to escape and have no real interest in bringing them back. However, the judicial mafia task force was able to locate Gayus and persuade him to return to Indonesia within a week.

The quick turnaround was aided by the fact that the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights was able to revoke Gayus’s passport because it was fraudulently obtained, which would have left him at the mercy of Singapore’s legal system. This has created new hope that other high-profile fugitives could also be persuaded to return from Singapore.

In Need of a Treaty

Bantarto Bandoro, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, said the absence of an extradition treaty had allowed Indonesian fugitives to escape arrest by making the short flight to Singapore.

In 2007, Indonesia and Singapore signed a long-awaited extradition agreement, after a series of negotiations dating back to 1979, but the treaty remains in limbo because the Indonesian House of Representatives has refused to ratify. The House opposes several articles in a Defense Cooperation Agreement tied to the extradition treaty. Among other contentious issues is an article in the defense agreement that would allow Singapore to use Indonesian airspace for military training.

“The extradition treaty is important because it provides assurances and shows a commitment between two countries,” said Teuku Faizasyah, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “In the future, we can’t depend on individual cases like Gayus to resolve this problem permanently.”

“The ball is in our court now, since the Singaporean government considers the treaty final,” he added.

So are Indonesian lawmakers ready to play ball? Kemal Aziz Stamboel, head of House Commission I, which oversees defense and foreign affairs, said legislators would be willing to re-examine the extradition treaty if the central government made a request. He said the treaty was not on the commission’s agenda because there had been no pressure from the government to push it through since it was signed in Bali in 2007.

However, Gayus’s arrest has resurrected the treaty debate. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) recently told the Globe that it had urged the government to push the House to ratify the agreement with Singapore.

Taking a New Approach?

The arrest has also raised questions about why the “persuasive approach” used on the rogue tax official — or at least the threat to notify Singaporean authorities about his fake passport — has not been used on other fugitives. Is an extradition treaty even needed?

So far there has been little pressure on the Ministry of Justice to start revoking passports of wanted graft suspects living abroad. “Sure, we have the authority to revoke a citizen’s passport, but we should consider its effectiveness,” said Maroloan Barimbing, a spokesman at the ministry’s Directorate General of Immigration.

He said the ministry could only revoke a citizen’s passport if a request was first made by law enforcement authorities. Amazingly, there has never been one.

“For corruption cases, there should be a request by one of the seven authorized government agencies,” Maroloan said, referring to the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Finance, National Police, Attorney General’s Office, KPK, Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) and the National Narcotics Agency (BNN).

“We can’t just revoke someone’s passport because of public pressure. We are talking about serious human rights violations here,” he said, pointing out that everyone was innocent until proven guilty.

Don’t Blame the Neighbors

The public appetite for new approaches to bring back fugitives and their billions in ill-gotten gains reflects years of failures in the fight against corruption.

In 2004, the central government set up a task force comprised of several government agencies to hunt down fugitive graft suspects, which failed to bring back even a single one. Even the powerful and successful KPK has failed to prevent corruption suspects from skipping the country, let alone persuading them to come back.

“What we need is a breakthrough in our judicial system if we want to win this fight,” said Frans Hendra Winarta, a member of the National Law Commission (KHN). He condemned the kid gloves used with fugitive graft suspects, many of whom have continued to run their Indonesia-based businesses from Singapore by telephone and e-mail.

“Unlike what is happening today, their assets and wealth should be frozen and confiscated by the state, even though they haven’t stood trial or been proven guilty,” he said. “If they are found to be innocent, the state can then return their assets.”

Frans said the KHN over the past 10 years had put forward countless proposals to the government to help with corruption eradication efforts, but “no one listens to our recommendations.”

“It shows how strong the corruption mafia is in this country,” he said. “Considering our current situation, I think we can say that the powers that be in this country are not serious about battling corruption. There is no use having different agencies when they can’t work well together.”

Teuku, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said simple conclusions could be drawn from the country’s poor track record in the fight against corruption.

“We can’t keep blaming our neighbor when there is often poor coordination in handling the problem at home. How did these fugitives flee in the first place?” he said. Dewi KurniawatiFor the Jakarta Globe

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