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Indonesia's corruption watchdog opens ethics hearing into prison bribery scandal

Jakarta Post - January 18, 2024

Dio Suhenda, Jakarta – The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) supervisory council began a series of ethics hearings on Wednesday into the conduct of 93 employees accused of soliciting illegal payments from KPK detainees in exchange for prison perks.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, council member Syamsudin Haris said it would hold at least seven back-to-back ethics hearings to question the 93 detention center workers in the coming days.

In the first six hearings, he said, the council would question 90 of the suspects, those who were thought to have personally sought bribes from KPK detainees. The remaining three employees would be summoned to a separate hearing as they were suspected of masterminding the scheme.

"The 93 [people] include current and former wardens of the detentions centers [...] and regular staff attending to the detainees," Syamsudin said.

"By giving the illicit money, the detainees would get 'extra services' in return, such as being allowed to carry a mobile phone to communicate [with the outside world]," he continued.

Accepting payments for illicit services is considered abuse of power under the KPK ethics code. Workers found guilty may be given administrative penalties, such as temporary suspension, pay cuts, being made to deliver a public apology or dismissal, depending on the severity of the crime and their position in the antigraft body.

The KPK ethics council questioned a total of 169 people in its investigation, including former detainees and former and current employees who were at some point assigned to the detention centers.

The council found several pieces of evidence, including cash deposit receipts. Investigators believe the illicit payments ranged from Rp 1 million (US$64) to Rp 500 million each.

"The total [sum] collected stood at around Rp 6 billion," said council member Albertina Ho at a Monday press briefing on the supervisory council's year-end review.

Rotten roots

The illegal services case came to light in June of last year, when the council investigated a detention center worker over a sexual misconduct allegation. The council later ruled the employee in question guilty of sexually assaulting the wife of a KPK detainee.

Kurnia Ramadhana of Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) said the illicit payments scandal demonstrated the KPK's inability to properly oversee several aspects of its work and to prevent bribery and corruption from occurring there.

"The act of buying and selling [services] allegedly occurring in detention centers is nothing new, as it often occurs in other correctional institutions," Kurnia said in a statement on Saturday. "[The KPK] should have been able to build a monitoring system that could mitigate these corrupt practices."

He added that the scandal, in addition to other ethics violations by KPK employees, stemmed from the antigraft body's questionable leadership under former chairman Firli Bahuri.

In November 2023, the police named Firli a suspect in the alleged extortion of former agriculture minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo. The KPK ethics council also ruled last month that Firli, a retired police general, was guilty of breaching the commission's code of ethics by being in private contact with Syahrul while the latter was under investigation.

"It's difficult to deny that the illegal levies committed by dozens of employees were caused by the lack of [good] role models at the KPK," Kurnia said, adding that two KPK leaders appointed in 2019 had been found to have violated the commission's ethics code.

Aside from Firli, the council found former commissioner Lili Pintauli Siregar guilty of "severe" ethical violations for keeping in close contact with a person of interest in a KPK investigation. She resigned from her position in July 2022 amid another ethics probe against her.

Kurnia urged the KPK to overhaul its internal supervision system, including by applying stricter criteria in employee recruitment.

The string of scandals plaguing the KPK has caused public trust in the institution to plummet, leaving interim KPK chief Nawawi Pomolango with the difficult task of restoring the reputation of the antigraft body, once seen as the country's most effective graft-fighting institution.

Source: https://asianews.network/indonesias-corruption-watchdog-opens-ethics-hearing-into-prison-bribery-scandal