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Indonesia puts on show at the G20 but graft still greases its wheels

Sydney Morning Herald - November 6, 2022

Chris Barrett and Karuni Rompies, Jakarta – Inside a large new warehouse in East Jakarta sit dozens of cars, but this is no ordinary showroom or collection.

The vehicles here have all been seized from politicians and other government officials found to have been lining their pockets illegally and are to be sent to auction. In Indonesia, there is no shortage of corruption.

"We didn't have a place to accommodate confiscated goods [until now]," said Mungki Hadipratikno, the head of asset and evidence management with the country's Corruption Eradication Commission, known as the KPK.

"All these years we entrusted them to be put into other agencies' storage facilities. They were basically open fields."

In the two decades since the KPK was established, it has confiscated and auctioned off all manner of sports and luxury cars, from Ferraris and Lamborghinis to Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, as well as 40 billion rupiah ($4 million) and even a palm oil factory in Riau, on the island of Sumatra, and a herd of 30 Limousin cattle.

In all, the arrest list of the corruption watchdog includes 313 national, provincial and district parliamentarians, 297 civil servants, 161 mayors, 35 heads of state agencies and ministries, 22 governors, 25 judges and 363 figures from the private sector.

And as President Joko Widodo tries to lure potential investors like Elon Musk to Indonesia and prepares to showcase the country to the world at the G20 summit in Bali this month, the scourge of bribery and kickbacks in South-East Asia's largest economy persists.

The latest in the crosshairs of investigators are Sudradjat Dimyati, a Supreme Court judge, and Lukas Enembe, the governor of the contested Papua province.

Dimyati was arrested in September for allegedly accepting a bribe of 800 million rupiah related to a case before him. Some of the money was discovered in a hollowed-out dictionary in his office.

Enembe has also been suspected of taking bribes, claims he has denied, and is being investigated over his outlaying of 560 billion rupiah at casinos in Singapore and Australia since 2017.

They are but the newest high-profile cases occupying the KPK. This year's Jakarta round of the Formula E World Championships – a motorsport class for electric cars – has also been under a corruption probe, and multiple former government ministers have been jailed in the past two years.

Edhy Prabowo, minister for maritime affairs and fisheries until November 2020, was last year sentenced to five years in prison over a lobster exporting scandal; Juliari Batubara, the social affairs minister until December 2020, was jailed for 12 years in August 2021 for a COVID-19 rort involving food aid packages; and Imam Nahrawi, the sports and youth minister until 2019, was imprisoned for seven years in 2020 for pocketing cash to approve sports grants.

Indonesia, as G20 president in 2022, has included the battle against corruption on the economic forum's agenda, staging several multilateral workshops on the topic this year.

It has slid backwards, though, on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, which each year rates 180 countries, giving them scores of between zero (the worst result) to 100.

Indonesia improved its ranking from 102nd to equal 96th, alongside Brazil and Turkey, between 2020 and 2021, but its score has dropped from 40 in 2019 to 38.

It was as low as 34 when Widodo, known as Jokowi, was elected in 2014, but after some progress during the first of his two five-year terms, the Indonesian leader and his broad coalition government have more recently been accused of going soft on corruption.

Adnan Topan Husodo, the coordinator of non-government organisation Indonesia Corruption Watch, said the Transparency International scores indicated "a worsening condition".

"Although there was an increase of one point in 2021 [from 37 to 38], it was not a better score compared to the one we got in 2019, which was 40. If we refer to the 2019 score, we obviously experienced a step back," he said.

The decline from 2019 coincides with a controversial revision of Indonesian legislation that year that eroded the independence of the KPK, rolling it into the public service and limiting its powers such as with wire-tapping.

Dozens of top investigators were also cast out after a failing a so-called civic knowledge test in which they were asked by intelligence services about their sex lives and other questions including their views on Chinese people and homosexuals.

"Public officers' views on the principles of corruption are fading... corruption is perceived as a regular crime, not an extraordinary crime," Husodo said.

"For example, the government [in September] granted parole to 23 corruption convicts and a former corruption convict was promoted to be the commissioner of a state-owned enterprise."

Among those released early was Indonesia's first elected female governor Ratu Atut Chosiyah, who had been found guilty of bribing the chief justice of the country's Constitutional Court, and a former public prosecutor who was originally sentenced to 10 years in jail, had six trimmed off on appeal and served only one.

Responding to criticism that too much leniency had been afforded to those paroled, Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly said the granting of parole to the nearly two dozen prisoners was in accordance with the law.

Last week, Minister for State-Owned Enterprises Erick Thohir said those guilty of graft offences would in the future be blacklisted from leadership roles in government-run companies.

For activists concerned about a weakening anti-corruption landscape, however, the releasing of the nearly two dozen corruption offenders was yet another blow.

"If we look at the government's policy design, it is very heavy on the economy and this regime is quite pragmatic," Husodo said.

"At the same time [the] KPK is one of the state's tools that is very disturbing to the elite. They arrested cabinet ministers and the elite's attempts to consolidate public economic resources through corrupt practices were hampered due [the] KPK's actions in upholding the law.

"That's why it needed to be stopped with the revising of the KPK law. Now, we finally see that politics kills the fight against corruption."

For the anti-corruption personnel, though, the battle goes on.

Back at the KPK's new 5000-square metre warehouse, four cars belonging to Edhy Prabowo, the former maritime and fisheries minister, are among those in storage when The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age visit, washed and warmed up twice a week to keep their value up for auction.

Prabowo's Hyundais and Toyotas are modest, though, compared to what else the agency has seized. "We cannot expose some of the luxurious cars here because their [legal] process is still ongoing," said Hadipratikno, the KPK asset recovery chief.Fittingly, the warehouse itself, which was opened in August, was built on land also seized from a corrupt government leader – Fuad Amin Imron, a former regent of Bangkalan, East Java, who was exposed for money laundering and taking bribes from a gas company and owned vast amounts of property across the country.

It's not just cars it houses but also a steady stream of other goods to be sold off and the proceeds sent to the state treasury.

"We also auction luxury bags. The best-selling items are luxury bags, watches, shoes and jackets," Hadipratikno said. "These ones are selling fast."

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/indonesia-puts-on-show-at-the-g20-but-graft-still-greases-its-wheels-20221027-p5btlz.htm