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Molotov cocktails and acid attacks: The risky life of an Indonesian corruption fighter

Melbourne Age - August 16, 2019

James Massola and Karuni Rompies, Jakarta – Imagine, for a moment, that three of Scott Morrison's ministers were caught up in corruption investigations and the speaker of the Australian Parliament had been sentenced to 15 years in prison in a multi-million dollar graft case.

Imagine, too, that two commissioners from a (theoretical) Australian anti-corruption body had their homes attacked by Molotov cocktails, and a high-profile investigator had acid thrown in his face – losing sight in one eye – and that two years later police were still unable to find the perpetrator.

These are just some of the challenges facing Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), one of the world's busiest, and most-respected, corruption-fighting bodies.

With a team of about 400 investigators, the KPK attempts to stamp out graft in a country of 260 million people where state corruption has been endemic for decades, and public faith in institutions such as the police and the courts system is low.

In an exclusive interview with the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, KPK Deputy Commissioner Laode Muhammad Syarif – one of the targets of the Molotov cocktail attack last January with chair Agus Rahardjo – says KPK staff face threats to their physical safety and that protection of commission staff is inadequate.

"The threats [to physical safety] are actually real, not on a daily basis but a weekly or monthly basis... and we do not have the capability to protect ourselves," he said.

"Look at [Hong Kong's] ICAC or the Malaysian anti-corruption commission, they have a special bureau for security, they even actually have weapons to protect themselves.

"We are really, really depending on the police but at the same time, the investigation of my case, of [chairman] Agus' case, or [the case of] Novel [Baswedan, the investigator who suffered the acid attack] – they are never solved."

What Laode does not say is that the KPK regularly pursues high-profile police corruption cases, but also relies on the police for protection.

"Law enforcement corruption is still major. If you look at the corruption perception index of Indonesia, the pull down factors are two: first political corruption, but the most is actually the law enforcement agencies' corruption," he says.

Tensions between the commission and the police are high, and have been for years.

The KPK regularly secures high-profile convictions, such as that of former house speaker Setya Novanto.

A trio of corruption investigations has drawn in Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita, Youth and Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi and Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin. All three men deny wrongdoing, and the ministers have not been officially named as suspects by the commission but their cases have dominated headlines in recent months.

But Laode, who earned his Masters of Law at Queensland's University of Technology and a PhD in law at the University of Sydney, hopes the KPK's funding will be increased so it can double the number of investigative staff to 800 and open nine branch offices across the sprawling Indonesian archipelago.

It takes six hours to fly west to east, from Aceh to Papua – the same amount of time it takes to fly from Jakarta to Sydney – and while the commission has the power to tap phones, impose travel bans, detain suspects, freeze bank accounts and more, Laode says it desperately needs more resources.

The proposal to expand the KPK has had lukewarm support from Finance Minister Sri Mulyani. According to Laode, she said she had no objection to the extra cost, but was concerned about how the KPK could guarantee its regional offices would not themselves fall victim to corruption.

The KPK, established in 2002, is one of the country's most-trusted institutions and its reputation is carefully guarded.

It works closely with Australia's Federal Police, as well as the Serious Fraud Offices in New Zealand and the United Kingdom and anti-corruption bodies in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

While debate continues in Australia about establishing a federal anti-corruption body, Laode says the KPK has been effective because "we do investigations and prosecutions in one office... I think the SFO [Serious Fraud Office] in New Zealand and SFO in the UK are actually the same".

Laode has just a few months left until his five-year term as a commissioner expires on December 21. He's proud of the work he has done, but admits the commission can investigate only a fraction of the tip-offs it receives.

He has applied for a second five-year term as a commissioner, but no one has ever served two terms and he does not appear to expect he will be the first to break that tradition. "I'll be a free man, and maybe going back to Sydney," he jokes.

He nominates Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city and one famous for its cleanliness, as one of the most-corruption free. The most corrupt provinces are Aceh (where two governors have been jailed by the KPK), North Sumatra (again two governors have been jailed), Riau, Papua and West Papua, he says.

Jakarta, home to the country's political, business and security elite, is not so bad.

"However, since they manage a lot of money because they are very rich the possibility of corruption actually is very, very high in Jakarta. That's why we have to be very, very careful."

Source: https://www.theage.com.au/world/asia/molotov-cocktails-and-acid-attacks-the-risky-life-of-an-indonesian-corruption-fighter-20190815-p52hku.html