Low-ranking police officer was sentenced to two years in jail, far less than the 20 years requested by prosecutors, for his involvement in corruption scandal that threatened to drag in powerful police officers.
Condemnation has erupted at the decision by a court in West Papua province to hand down a two-year sentence to a police officer for illegal logging, despite strong evidence that he may have laundered up to Rp 1.5 trillion ($127 million) in funds obtained from smuggling fuel and exporting a protected timber species.
The short sentence handed to Labora Sitorus, a low-ranking member of the Papua Police who could have faced up to 20 years under the charges brought by prosecutors, was a clear indication that something was covered up during the trial, said Dian Adriawan, a criminal law expert at Jakarta’s Trisakti University.
He questioned the decision by the court in the town of Sorong, West Papua, on Monday to acquit Labora of the most serious charge under the nation’s 2010 Anti-Money-Laundering Law.
“If he had been convicted of Article 3 of the 2010 law [on laundering criminal proceeds], then the court would also have had to convict him of the connected charge under Article 5,” Dian said.
A money laundering conviction which would have obliged the court to publicly name the recipients of the criminal proceeds, which allegedly include high-ranking police officers, he said.
Labora was instead found guilty on one count under the 1999 Forestry Law. Prosecutors had also indicted him under the 2002 Oil and Gas Law for alleged fuel smuggling, but he was acquitted of that charge.
Had the court found him guilty on all three charges, he could have been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and fined up to Rp 10 billion.
Labora’s case electrified the nation last year when the National Police confirmed findings by the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK), the government’s anti-money-laundering watchdog, that up to Rp 1.5 trillion in suspicious funds had passed through the low-ranking officer’s bank accounts between 2007 and 2012.
Police also seized a boat carrying 400,000 liters of subsidized fuel, allegedly smuggled into Papua to be sold at a markup, registered in Labora’s name. More than 100 containers of the rare tropical hardwood merbau found at Surabaya’s port and destined for China were also traced back to the officer.
Merbau, a highly valued timber, is prohibited for export in its rough-sawn form.
At the time of Labora’s arrest, expectations were high that the ensuing investigation would net the higher-ranking officers who were widely believed to have taken kickbacks for allowing the illegal operations to run for years.
However, no other suspects from the police force were named, and the two-year sentence handed down on Monday only confirmed that local authorities were trying to shield senior officers, Dian said.
“I believe there’s a cover-up. They’ve got the proof of the crime, so it’s very bizarre why they haven’t traced where the proceeds went,” he said.
He added it was inconceivable that a lone officer like Labora would have been able to operate schemes of this scale for years without help from higher-ups.
Indonesia Police Watch deplored the court’s failure to name the 33 high-ranking police officers believed to have taken a cut of Labora’s operations.
“It’s a shame that the various testimonies and evidence presented at the trial were not considered by the panel of judges,” IPW chair Neta S. Pane said. “From here it’s pretty apparent that the police are covering up for their members who received money from Labora, and that they are being protected by the force and will never be prosecuted.”
The Papua Prosecutors Office said it would immediately file an appeal with the West Papua High Court.
“A two-year sentence is far below the prosecutors’ request of 15 years,” said E.S. Maruli Hutagalung, head of the prosecutors office. “Clearly it’s not commensurate with our demand, so we’re filing an appeal.”