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Diplomatic Deadlock Stalls Anti-Corruption Efforts in Indonesia

  • Kate Lamb

Tax official Gayus Tambunan is escorted by police officers as he arrives at a district court for his corruption trial in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011

Tax official Gayus Tambunan is escorted by police officers as he arrives at a district court for his corruption trial in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011

Singapore has long been a notorious safe haven for Indonesian corruption suspects on the run. The two countries drafted an extradition and defense treaty in 2007, but Indonesia’s parliament still has not ratified it.

A string of Indonesian corruption suspects have fled to neighboring Singapore in recent years, including bank owners alleged to have stolen billions in bailout funds during the Asian financial crisis.

The latest high-profile Indonesian fugitive to flee to the city state was the treasurer of the president's Democratic Party, Muhammad Nazaruddin. The former parliament member was sacked after receiving alleged kickbacks in connection with the South East Asia Games. Last month, he was extradited from Colombia.

Before him it was Nunun Nurbaeti, a high profile businesswoman embroiled in a corruption case involving several lawmakers. She has not been seen since she escaped to Singapore.

Indonesia’s foreign ministry admits an extradition treaty would deter corruptors, but the government will not ratify it without changes. Spokesman Michael Tene says the current combined extradition and defense agreement would allow Singapore’s military to train in Indonesian territory.

"The Singaporean views this as one package, meaning that the ratification of the extradition treaty has to be in the one package with the defense cooperation agreement," said Tene. "While on our side we view as a separate agreement ... Subsequently when the agreement was submitted to the parliament for ratification there was a request for some amendments on the defense cooperation agreement. The Singaporean [side] so far has refused to negotiate on the amendment."

Singapore has not arrested or extradited any of Indonesia's most recent corruption suspects and it looks certain the diplomatic deadlock will continue.

On a visit to Indonesia this week, the Singaporean State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Masagos Zulkifli, stressed the treaty would never be up for renegotiation but the country would support efforts to return Indonesian crime suspects if there is sufficient evidence.

Despite a high profile anti-graft campaign by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Former Corruption Eradication Commissioner (KPK) Erry Riyana Hardjapamekas says the number one priority for the parliament is to ratify the treaty as soon as possible -- despite the objections over the military concessions.

"I think that is the first priority," Erry said. "Priority number one could also be military cooperation but number one should be how to combat corruption. For Indonesia, they have to have a treaty to capture all the stolen assets stolen taken by corruptors."

Because almost 40 percent of Indonesia’s named corruption suspects are current or former parliament members, it is understandable that some lawmakers may be interested in stalling the extradition treaty.

But the former commissioner of the anti-corruption agency says Singapore may have its own reasons for stalling the treaty.

"At least we know there is resistance from the Singapore side, maybe for economic reasons, or other reasons...It is general knowledge that to a certain extent Singapore is depending on our economic flow of goods, flow of services and also funds," Erry said. "So we understand that, but it could be done with an extradition treaty. If we sign that treaty it doesn't mean that economic cooperation would be decreasing significantly. We can always find out a compromise to compensate for that."

A wealth report by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini in 2006 estimated that about one-third of the 55,000 millionaires who lived in Singapore at that time were Indonesian, with assets totaling $87 billion.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's administration has made some progress in jailing corrupt officials but last year Transparency International ranked Indonesia 110th out 178 countries on its corruption index, no movement from the year before.