State Capture and Indonesia’s Justice System: A Mountain to Climb

Indonesia recently witnessed a saga involving a high-profile fugitive who received substantial privileges from the public service while he was on the run. Such instances of state capture remain a chronic problem in Indonesia.

Indonesian police officers escort convicted corruption suspect, Djoko Tjandra (C), during his arrival at the airport in Jakarta, on July 30, 2020, after being arrested in Malaysia on his escape which caused several police generals to be dismissed for their involvement. (Photo: Dasril Roszandi, AFP)

A’an Suryana

7 August 2020

The alleged bribery saga involving a high-profile graft fugitive, Djoko Soegiarto Tjandra, culminated in his arrest recently in Kuala Lumpur. The saga presents an irony in the Indonesian justice system: Djoko Tjandra, a convict on the lam since 2009, was still free to travel across Indonesia under the nose of law enforcers. He even received privileges in getting public services under a post-reform Indonesia state which has vowed to tackle corruption.

The saga also reflects the chronic problem of state-capture – a form of systemic corruption in which private individuals influence states’ decision-making processes through various means, including bribery, to serve their personal interests. Given the severity of this problem, the saga attracted significant public attention. The arrest of Djoko Tjandra became a trending topic on Twitter. Major television stations in Indonesia broadcast the event live; other print and online media have followed the saga closely since it surfaced in early July. This immense public attention underlines the need for the Indonesian state to reinvigorate and push judicial reform to the next level.

The weakness of the justice system can be seen from the start of the entire saga. In 2009, Djoko Tjandra fled Indonesia for Papua New Guinea, one day before the Supreme Court sentenced him to a two-year jail term for his involvement in the Bank Bali corruption case. Shortly after the escape, the Interpol issued a red-notice against him at the request of the Attorney General’s Office (AGO).

After 11 years, Djoko Tjandra’s wife, Anna Boentaran, hatched an elaborate plot to challenge the Supreme Court’s verdict and bring her husband home. In April this year, she asked the Indonesian police to delete Djoko Tjandra’s name from the Interpol’s wanted-list after learning that the red notice had expired in 2014. Despite confirming with the AGO that Djoko Tjandra remains on the wanted-list as he has yet to serve his jail sentence, the police general who worked on behalf of Anna’s request proceeded to send a letter to the Immigration Office on 5 May, informing it that the red notice had expired. The police general at the police’s International Relations Division argued that the red notice had expired because the AGO had failed to ask Interpol to extend its validity.

Following the police clearance, Djoko Tjandra began his bid to challenge the Supreme Court’s verdict. Despite his fugitive status still officially unresolved between the police and the AGO, Djoko Tjandra, along with his lawyer, visited a sub-district office in Jakarta on 8 June. There, he extended the validity of his Indonesian identity card which had expired in 2012. He was assisted by the head of the sub-district office, who personally took part in renewing the identity card to ensure that the process went smoothly. The identity card was needed as part of a legal procedure to process his case review at the South Jakarta district court. At the lower court, Djoko Tjandra had hoped to have his corruption case reviewed by the Supreme Court and the 2009 verdict quashed overturned in his favour. Understandably, the privileges conferred on the fugitive by the sub-district office infuriated the public.

Although investigations are still ongoing, it is hard to believe that state apparatuses involved had not received any kickbacks from Djoko Tjandra given his high-profile corruption cases.

Ten days later, the saga heightened after a document was leaked to the public. It showed that a police general had issued a travel pass to Djoko Tjandra. The pass enabled him to travel around Indonesia smoothly between 18 to 22 June. It turned out that a few weeks earlier, the police general, who was from the Criminal Investigation Directorate, even travelled with Djoko Tjandra on a private jet from Pontianak city to Jakarta. The two men held meetings in Pontianak and Jakarta on June 6, rather intriguingly, for a combination of some police and business affairs.

Public anger ensued for several weeks. This eventually led to the arrest of Djoko Tjandra. The Malaysian police arrested him on the night of 30 July in Kuala Lumpur at the request of President Joko Widodo. He was handed over to the Indonesian police.

As far as the case is concerned, those who were allegedly involved in assisting Djoko Tjandra have received internal punishment and one of them, namely the police general who issued the travel pass, has been named a crime suspect in this case. Although investigations are still ongoing, it is hard to believe that state apparatuses involved had not received any kickbacks from Djoko Tjandra given his high-profile corruption cases. If they are proven guilty of receiving bribes, Djoko Tjandra’s scandal only proves that state-capture continues to be a chronic problem.

The case is not unprecedented. A decade ago, Gayus Tambunan, a young tax official, who had amassed a massive amount of state money, tried to escape justice by bribing several state officials. The officials – which included a police officer, a prosecutor and a judge – were convicted of receiving the bribes and all of them went to jail. Another notable case involved corruption over electronic identity cards. This caused state losses amounting to Rp 2.3 trillion (US$157 million). Several state officials were sent to jail for their respective roles in the case. They included a former parliament speaker, several parliament members and high-ranking ministry officials.

These cases show that the judicial reform in Indonesia still fails to live up to people’s expectations. Eradicating corruption needs a combination of different strategies. They include improving the welfare of civil servants and enhancing oversight over their daily practices. The Djoko Tjandra case demonstrates that Indonesia has a mountain to climb.

A’an Suryana is a Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore.

ISEAS Commentary — 2020/115

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.