Friday, June 10, 2011

Singapore a Haven for Indonesian Crooks?

Resentment of Singapore's perceived role as a safe haven for law-breaking Indonesians is mounting as the authorities here struggle to bring two graft suspects back for trial.

As a result, the absence of an extradition treaty between the two neighbours has resurfaced as a sore point. But analysts say Singapore is merely a 'convenient scapegoat' because it is Jakarta that has not ratified the pact.

The commotion comes in the wake of two recent cases: Nunun Nurbaeti, linked to a vote-buying scandal, is believed to have stopped in Singapore before moving on, and Muhammad Nazaruddin, under investigation for bribery, is in the Republic.

On Tuesday, a current affairs talk show featured panellists discussing the issue of 'Singapore as a refuge for 'corruptors''. One caller even called on Indonesians to stop visiting Singapore and for the government to shelve plans to supply water to it by 2015.

Such strong statements indicate the underlying frustrations at the sluggish progress here in dealing with the corrupt, particularly those close to the levers of power, according to analysts.

In March, Nunun was thought to have fled to Singapore before moving on to Thailand and then Cambodia, where she is currently believed to be hiding.

Just last month, Nazaruddin, the former treasurer of the ruling Democrat Party, left for Singapore a day before a travel ban on him was enforced.

Both said they left to seek medical treatment. The Indonesian authorities have made a number of fruitless trips to Singapore to locate Nunun and to convince Nazaruddin to return to Jakarta.

But the issue dates back to the time of the Asian financial crisis of 1997, said former parliamentarian Alvin Lie.

'In the past, Indonesians have gone to Singapore to seek safety so there is a perception that Singapore is a haven for those with legal problems in Indonesia,' he said.

Many here believe a number of fugitives wanted in connection with corruption live in Singapore or are permitted to pass through it, including businessman Anggoro Widjojo and former Bank Century shareholders Hesham Al Warraq and Rafat Ali Rizvi.

For years, Indonesia has been grappling with endemic graft, fuelled by low salaries in the public sector and the weak rule of law, which has tainted its judiciary and law enforcement agencies.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's administration has made some progress by putting corrupt former officials in jail. But Transparency International last year said the country had hit a wall in its efforts, and ranked it 110th out of 178 countries.

In the same table, Singapore tied with two other countries in first place.

This has 'made Singapore a convenient scapegoat', said Lie, a political and public policy observer.

'It is not fair, of course, as Singapore did not invite these people and neither was Singapore informed that these people were prohibited from leaving their country.'

The lack of an extradition treaty has complicated matters. In 2007, Indonesia and Singapore signed such a treaty along with a defense cooperation pact as a package, but the Indonesian Parliament refused to ratify it on the grounds that the defence pact compromised national security.

International law analyst Hikmahanto Juwana said: 'Some politicians are of the view that getting fugitives back cannot be put on the same scale as national security.'

In the light of the recent cases, however, presidential adviser Teuku Faizasyah said there is a growing interest in 'moving forward' with the ratification of the extradition agreement.

But even then, Indonesia needs to strengthen its weak border controls and enhance coordination between law enforcement agencies.

'There are limitations on our part... we can't just issue a travel ban or revoke passports without evidence,' he said.

For example, Nazaruddin fled a day before a travel ban was placed on him.

Some observers, however, think there is more to the Singapore-bashing than meets the eye.

'There is a view in Indonesia that Singapore is gaining from Indonesia's rich,' said one political observer, who asked not to be identified, 'and that Singapore sees the implementation of a stand-alone extradition treaty as a threat to its attractiveness in luring the rich with their investments, without having to worry over their tax declarations.

'So, from time to time, Singapore gets picked on.'

Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia.

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