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Indonesia’s anti-graft agency doesn’t flinch (or swoon)

In Indonesia, even a former beauty queen is corrupt.

Angelina Sondakh, left, a lawmaker and past winner of the Miss Indonesia pageant, was sentenced last week to four and a half years in jail for taking over $4 million in bribes and kickbacks. The payments compensated Sondakh for her role in steering lucrative construction contracts to the Permai Group.

The conglomerate is owned partly by Muhammed Nazaruddin, former treasurer of the ruling Democrat Party, which happens to be the party of both Sondakh and the current president. Nazaruddin was arrested in Colombia in 2011 while fleeing Indonesia. After receiving his own jail sentence for participating in the same scheme as Sondakh, Nazaruddin turned state’s evidence and informed on his colleagues. Sondakh called him “the most evil person on earth” after he testified against her at trial. Nazaruddin also implicated a minister from his party, who resigned, and other influential figures.

The prosecutions were brought by Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK. These and other cases show that the KPK takes its name seriously.

The KPK has a 100% conviction rate and powers that would make the FBI jealous, including warrantless wiretapping. It has, to borrow a phrase from Elliot Spitzer, been willing to walk into the buzzsaw of some very powerful interests. In addition to Sondakh’s and Nazaruddin’s cases, which challenge Indonesia’s ruling political party, the KPK has taken on the National Police, and nearly paid a hefty price for it.

In 2009, two KPK high officials were arrested on bribery charges. Mass protests ensued, and the KPK leaked recordings of police officials conspiring to frame KPK employees in retaliation for investigating the police. One policeman compared the KPK fighting the police to a gecko fighting a crocodile. Within hours, the KPK officials were released.

The agency has its limitations. Observers doubt the KPK has the resources or political backing to take on the country’s most powerful figures, and thousands of cases remain in backlog.

Nonetheless, in a country where the public is utterly jaded with tales of corruption and impunity both grand and mundane, the KPK’s success holding powerful figures accountable is a refreshing counterpoint to business as usual.


Mark R. Friedman is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog.

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