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Indonesia’s graft fighters take on crooked cops

Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) raided the headquarters of the National Police, naming one of its top leaders a suspect this week in the first serious attempt to investigate "fat bank accounts" allegedly held by senior officers of the force. The raid took the police completely by surprise and has set the stage for another ...

BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) raided the headquarters of the National Police, naming one of its top leaders a suspect this week in the first serious attempt to investigate "fat bank accounts" allegedly held by senior officers of the force. The raid took the police completely by surprise and has set the stage for another big battle between the commission and the nation's main law enforcement agency.

There was a moment of tension when the police prevented the KPK officials from leaving the premises of the Traffic Corps Headquarters in Jakarta with boxes of documents they had seized as evidence. The stand-off ended after an intervention from a senior cabinet minister who told the leaders of both institutions that they should cooperate.

The last time the KPK picked a battle with the National Police in 2009, it turned into a major public spectacle. The police, the much bigger and more powerful of the two institutions, were so dismissive of the challenge that they arrogantly described it as a fight between a "gecko and crocodile." They grossly underestimated public opinion, which ran so strongly against them that they (the crocodile) ended up losing the battle. One of their officers, Commissioner General Susno Adji, went to jail for soliciting bribes in a case he was investigating.

Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) raided the headquarters of the National Police, naming one of its top leaders a suspect this week in the first serious attempt to investigate "fat bank accounts" allegedly held by senior officers of the force. The raid took the police completely by surprise and has set the stage for another big battle between the commission and the nation’s main law enforcement agency.

There was a moment of tension when the police prevented the KPK officials from leaving the premises of the Traffic Corps Headquarters in Jakarta with boxes of documents they had seized as evidence. The stand-off ended after an intervention from a senior cabinet minister who told the leaders of both institutions that they should cooperate.

The last time the KPK picked a battle with the National Police in 2009, it turned into a major public spectacle. The police, the much bigger and more powerful of the two institutions, were so dismissive of the challenge that they arrogantly described it as a fight between a "gecko and crocodile." They grossly underestimated public opinion, which ran so strongly against them that they (the crocodile) ended up losing the battle. One of their officers, Commissioner General Susno Adji, went to jail for soliciting bribes in a case he was investigating.

The commission didn’t emerge from the fight unscathed, though. Its chairman, Antasari Azhar, went to jail for murder on evidence that was circumstantial at best. Meanwhile, two other commissioners accused of taking bribes by the police were cleared of wrongdoing and released from police detention only after a massive public campaign that collected more than 1.4 million signatures through Facebook.

This time around, the KPK wasted no time in declaring Inspector General Djoko Susilo, concurrently governor of the Police Academy, a suspect in connection with the procurement of high-tech simulating equipment that police use when issuing driver’s licenses. The KPK says that Djoko, as head of the Traffic Corps in 2011, received 2 billion rupiah in kickbacks from the private company that won the 190-billion-rupiah ($20 million) contract to supply the simulators. Djoko is not detained presently but the government has slapped a ban on him from leaving the country.

Although the National Police Chief, General Timur Pradopo, has publicly pledged to cooperate with the KPK in investigating the procurement scandal, it did not stop his office from declaring five men — three police officers and two businessmen — suspects barely 48 hours after the raid. The five men, including another police general, are key witnesses whose testimony would be important in building the case against Djoko. Many saw the move as an attempt by the police not only to undermine the entire investigation, but also to prevent it from widening, or worse, moving higher up the leadership ranks.

So far, the battle between the two sides has been confined to who has the right to conduct the investigation. The police want to keep this an internal investigation as far as possible. Allegations of the presence of "fat bank accounts" in the name of senior officers have circulated for several years now but never seriously investigated.

It remains to be seen whether public support alone will be enough for the KPK to take on the police again. (In the image above, protestors rally in Jakarta in support of the KPK’s activities.) The independent commission already has so much on its plate, due to the number of high-profile cases it’s taken on, that some say it may be spreading itself dangerously thin given its limited resources and staffing.

Not surprisingly, the KPK has more than its share of detractors. Its targets in the recent past have included top politicians from all the big political parties, including some within President Susilo BambangYudhoyono’s own Democratic Party, as well as senior government officials, all of whom would be happy to seize any opportunity to exact revenge.

One indication that the KPK has ruffled too many feathers in the wrong places came when the House of Representatives and the government last month refused to disburse the funds that had already been allocated for the KPK to start construction of its new office complex. The commission’s 750 staffers are currently crammed together in an old office building. The House is also considering reviewing legislation in ways that could significantly weaken the commission’s ability to investigate and prosecute cases.

But the KPK continues to enjoy massive public support for now. Volunteers have launched a public campaign to raise money for the construction of its building. Although the money collected so far falls far short of the 160 billion rupiah ($17 million) needed to begin the construction of the new office this year, donations have come from people of all walks of life, including students and small traders.

The police will not emerge from this investigation unscathed. In survey after survey the National Police have consistently ranked among the most corrupt institutions in the country, with the latest one placing it third behind the House of Representatives and the Tax Office. With their credibility and integrity in tatters, the police will probably have an even harder time living up to their duty to protect and serve the people.

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