john McBeth, Jakarta – Indonesia may have a tax-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio of only 11.9%, one of the lowest in the Asia-Pacific region, but nothing gets up the nose of the citizenry more than government officials in positions of influence seemingly living beyond their means.
So it is with the latest case involving middle-ranking taxman Rafael Alun Trisambodo, who may have stayed well under the radar if it were not for his 20-year-old son, Mario Dandy Satrio, beating up a youth so severely he is still in intensive care.
Reformist Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati ordered an investigation into Trisambodo's wealth after reports of the February 20 incident appeared on social media, along with pictures his family regularly posted of their fleet of luxury cars and motorcycles.
As the minister said in a statement: "We condemn the lavish lifestyles of family members of Finance Ministry officials, which erode trust in the integrity of the ministry and create a negative image for those who are honest and professional in their work."
According to media reports, Trisambodo faces possible charges of failing to correctly report his assets, neglecting to pay luxury vehicle taxes and engaging in illegal transactions with the alleged intention of money laundering.
Satrio is the owner of a US$106,000 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon parked at the scene of the violent altercation, which led to his father resigning from his post as a section head at the South Jakarta tax office.
Trisambodo's last wealth report to the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) recorded personal assets worth 56.1 billion rupiah (US$3.6 million), already suspiciously high for an Echelon III tax official whose maximum salary is only 46.4 million rupiah (US$3,036) a month.
That is only slightly less than the 58 billion rupiah ($3.7 million) reported by Sri Mulyani, who earns about 150 million rupiah ($9,800) a month in base salary and other benefits and was a highly-paid managing director at the World Bank between 2010 and 2016.
Taxation Director-General Suryo Utamo listed 14.4 billion rupiah as his total wealth, but he too has been under scrutiny since it was revealed that he owns five vehicles and six motorcycles, including a pricey 1,200 cc Harley Davidson cruiser.
Sri Mulyani has now ordered the dissolution of a big bikes club formed by Utomo and other senior tax officials. Her directive was posted on Instagram next to a press clipping of the director-general and his prized 2003 Harley Sportster.
The iconic bikes have long been popular with Indonesian generals and senior officials, including former president Suharto who liked to ride his 1996 Harley Nostalgia around the palace grounds, sometimes with vice-president BJ Habibie in a sidecar beside him.
Harleys and other imported bikes of over 500cc are subject to 27.5% import duty on top of a 95% luxury tax, which bumps the price of a top-of-the-range machine in Indonesia from $30,000 to more than $100,000.
Trisambodo is now the subject of a full-scale investigation, but the KPK has some explaining to do as well following revelations that the watchdog Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK) first reported his dubious financial transactions as far back as 2015.
KPK deputy for graft prevention Pahala Nainggolan acknowledged that the probe didn't go deep enough. "While we can sense that something was off, his wealth report checks out from an administrative point of view," he told the Jakarta Post.
Satrio is facing five years' imprisonment for the aggravated assault on Cristalino Ozara, the 17-year-old son of a senior member of GP Ansor, the youth wing of the mass Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).
Weighing into the fray as well, political coordinating minister and former Constitutional Court justice Mahfud MD has called for an "administrative" inquiry, saying there is no such thing as an apology or an amicable settlement in a legal case.
Trisambodo is not the first senior tax official to find himself at the center of a public scandal. Fresh in many minds is the 2011 case of Gayus Tambunan, who is alleged to have amassed as much as $10 million acting as a bagman for scores of tax-evading companies.
Tambunan may have detracted attention from those higher up the food chain, but he was key to understanding the decades of ingrained collusion between shady businessmen and corrupt tax officials, law enforcement agencies and the courts.
In fact, he was a special case, one of only a handful of junior officers who inserted themselves higher up in the dispute process where the haggling with major firms entered the legal process and their superiors were happy to delegate authority.
In the months Tambunan occupied the front pages, Indonesians were fascinated by the astonishing gall of a 31-year-old nobody, who later claimed he paid a district court judge $40,000 to win an acquittal in his first trial in March 2010.
He succeeded in bribing his way out of custody on multiple occasions after his re-arrest later that year, using a fake passport to make numerous trips to Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
That could only have been facilitated by a network of co-conspirators anxious to ensure he could still pay out his obligations from onshore accounts holding his ill-gotten gains. They could not, however, forestall an eventual seven-year jail term.
According to the KPK, 13,855 Finance Ministry employees failed to submit their wealth reports to the KPK in 2022, even though Sri Mulyani has claimed that there is almost 100% compliance with an internal reporting requirement.
"Although there are mechanisms in place, such as the LHKPN (wealth reports) and internal supervision applications, state officials are not guaranteed to comply," said online news portal KataData.
"The commitment to eradicating corruption is in crisis. The fact that so many tax officials and other public agency employees are caught in corruption (cases) shows that law enforcement is not a sufficient deterrent."