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Indonesia's corruption court in fight for existence
Wed Jun 17, 2009 3:17am EDT
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By Olivia Rondonuwu
JAKARTA (Reuters) - It has put central bankers and government officials behind bars and is easily Indonesia's most feared judicial body. But the corruption court, an important weapon in the fight against graft, is now under threat itself.
Politicians, some of whom have much to fear from the court, are meddling with the panel of judges and even trying to close it down completely.
That could threaten one of the more successful anti-graft campaigns in a Southeast Asian nation that year after year ranks among the world's most corrupt.
Widespread graft deters investors who otherwise might pour billions of dollars into developing Indonesia's abundant oil, gas, and mineral deposits or improving its shoddy infrastructure. That is one reason Indonesian economic growth tends to languish behind economic behemoths like China and India.
"The battle against corruption is still a long way from over, but at least the public can see it has gone in the right direction," said Emerson Yuntho of Indonesia Corruption Watch.
Set up in 2004, the court -- housed in a shabby building in central Jakarta with broken glass windows and damp, smelly courtrooms -- has a number of features that have made it far more effective in punishing the corrupt than Indonesia's regular court system has been.
One is its system of appointing three ad hoc, or outside, judges out of a total of five on the panel. These ad hoc judges are picked from outside the court system and include academics and other professionals.
In a country where the judiciary itself is rated among the most corrupt institutions, these outsiders are considered more independent.
Armed with dossiers of evidence from the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, the corruption court has had a 100 percent conviction rate. The average sentence, for the 90 or so defendants who have been tried. is about four years, according to Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW).
By contrast, the normal courts treat corruption cases much more leniently. Last year, 62 percent of those charged with corruption were let off by the public courts, up from 57 percent in 2007 and 31.4 percent in 2006. Sentences are generally lighter, with an average of just under six months, ICW said.
"We need the (corruption) court, because the public court is ineffective," said Budi Effendi, an unemployed man in Jakarta.
"But maybe we should follow China's example, recover the stolen money and sentence the corrupt to death to serve as a deterrent."
NO LONGER UNTOUCHABLE ?
Scores of senior officials, who under previous governments would have been considered virtually untouchable, have been sentenced by the corruption court including a former governor of Aceh province, Abdullah Puteh, and a leading prosecutor, Urip Tri Gunawan, who took bribes to drop a graft case involving a tycoon.
Several senior central bankers including a former governor, Burhanuddin Abdullah, were found guilty of making illegal payments from a foundation to several members of parliament in order to influence amendments to legislation. Continued...
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