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Analysis: Scandals involving Indonesia's anti-corruption chief a test of Jokowi's commitment to fighting graft

JAKARTA: The two-storey house in one of Jakarta’s most upscale neighbourhoods, Senopati, appeared deserted when CNA visited recently.

Its three-metre tall metal gates were padlocked while the blinds of its windows tightly shut. Aside from the rustling trees shading the minimalist-style house, there were hardly any signs of life.

The same house was on Oct 26 raided by police investigators in white, short-sleeve shirts and black trousers, escorted by heavily armed officers in bulletproof vests on top of Indonesian police’s distinctive grayish brown uniforms.

Police investigators were looking for evidence against the house’s tenant, chairman of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Mr Firli Bahuri. 

He has been accused of extorting money from former agriculture minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo, as the latter was being investigated for a litany of bribery charges by the anti-corruption body. 

The Jakarta Metro Police have not revealed what evidence they were able to collect from the Senopati home, as well as another house in the outskirts of Jakarta owned by the KPK chairman.

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

The KPK has been investigating Syahrul since 2020 when it began receiving tip offs from activists and people inside the ministry.

Syahrul was accused of extorting money from his high-ranking subordinates in exchange for promotion or keeping their coveted jobs.

KPK deputy chairman Johanis Tanak told a press conference on Oct 11 that each official was forced to provide between US$4,000 to US$10,000 to Syahrul and two other suspects every month from 2020 to this year.

But it would take some time before the KPK began building a case against Syahrul.

On Sep 29, officials from the KPK raided Syahrul’s house in another upscale area in Jakarta, Widya Chandra just as the then minister was traveling to Europe on an official visit.

Among the items confiscated from his house were a check amounting to two trillion rupiah (US$125.5 million), 12 handguns and 30 billion rupiah in cash.

Syahrul returned to Jakarta on Oct 4. The following day, Syahrul visited the Jakarta Police headquarters to lodge a complaint against the KPK chairman alleging that Mr Firli had tried to extort money from him.

Which is why when a selection committee, sanctioned by Jokowi’s administration, nominated Mr Firli for a KPK commissioner position, activists were fuming.

“How can a man with such a bad record pass the vetting process? (Activists) tried to bring the selection committee’s attention to Firli’s past violations but they went ahead and nominated him anyway,” Mr Danang Widoyoko, secretary general of Transparency International Indonesia, told CNA.

Once he secured the KPK chairmanship, the list of ethical violations involving Mr Firli continued.

In 2020, he was reprimanded for accepting a helicopter ride from a businessman to make a personal trip. He would be investigated by the KPK supervisory committee four more times, the latest was for meeting Syahrul.

Mr Firli could be in trouble again, this time connected to the Jakarta house which police raided on Oct 26.

By law, senior government officials must declare all of their wealth and assets and the rented house was not in Mr Firli’s list of assets disclosed to the public.

Another senior official charged with graft was Henri Alfiandi, the disgraced chief of the national search and rescue agency, a non cabinet position but is directly appointed by Jokowi.

His case is still being investigated by the military police, as Henri is an active Air Force general, and it has not moved to trial.

Mr Fickar of Trisakti University said Jokowi must take the selection process of strategic public posts seriously. Equally important is how these positions are monitored and supervised.

“In the case of the KPK, these supervisions must be double or triple the strictness compared to other institutions because the KPK is supposed to be a model of what a clean and transparent public institution in Indonesia should look like,” he said.

“The fact that a person like Firli can get away with so many ethical violations and misconduct for so long shows that there is something wrong with how KPK officials are monitored.”

The KPK is supposed to be scrutinised by a supervisory committee, all five members of which are also vetted and nominated by a presidentially appointed selection committee.

But Mr Kurnia of Indonesia Corruption Watch said the supervisory committee is moving too slowly and its sanctions too weak. 

“Firli is a repeat offender and yet every time he was found guilty of violating the KPK’s ethics code, he got no more than a written reprimand,” he said. 

The committee, Mr Kurnia added, should have been more firm towards Mr Firli, who kept snubbing orders to appear before the ethics tribunal, delaying the committee’s investigation process.

“Firli met a person of interest who was the subject of corruption probe. That is a clear violation of the ethics code. What more (evidence) does (the committee) need?” he said. 

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