Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Taxman Jailed in Massive Corruption Case

JAKARTA

A Jakarta court sentenced a low-level tax official on Wednesday who admitted to causing hundreds of millions of dollars in state losses to seven years in jail, well short of the 20 years sought by prosecutors.

Gayus Tambunan, 31, was convicted of bribing officials, abuse of power and using false documents in a case that has shocked and enthralled the country for almost a year.

The case has exposed a vast web of corruption allegedly involving top police, prosecutors, judges, prison wardens and corporate taxpayers including companies linked to powerful politicians.

It has also savaged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s image as tough on corruption and highlighted his weakness in the face of vested interests who run what he refers to as the “court mafia” in the heart of the nation’s judiciary.

Wearing a brown batik shirt, Tambunan listened intently and showed little emotion as the judges read out the verdict.

“I respect the sentence as the judges considered everything … The prosecutors’ recommendation was totally outrageous. They just wanted revenge,” he told the court.

Acquitted in an earlier graft trial that was subsequently found to have been rigged, Tambunan amassed a huge fortune and lived in an opulent mansion paid for with bribes from companies he had helped to dodge tax.

His official monthly salary was only a few hundred dollars but Rp28 billion (US$3.1 million) was found in his bank accounts — money he said came from companies linked to powerful Golkar party chief Aburizal Bakrie.

Bakrie denies any wrongdoing and dismisses Tambunan’s claims that Bakrie Group companies used his services to dodge hundreds of millions of dollars in tax.

Other firms the portly tax official has publicly implicated include US energy giant Chevron, which also denies the allegations.

In all, Tambunan’s alleged crimes cost the state Rp7 trillion ($780 million) in lost revenue, according to a tally by Tempo newsmagazine.
He was re-arrested in Singapore — a popular destination for Indonesian graft suspects — in March last year and told investigators he was only a small fish in an ocean of corruption.

His candid statements about the police and prosecutors he allegedly bribed and the services he allegedly provided to scores of corporate taxpayers have earned him a level of sympathy among anti-graft activists and ordinary Indonesians, who now want his corporate accomplices to face justice.

“Make me an advisor to the national police chief, attorney general and the KPK (anti-graft commission) chairman and I promise that within two years Indonesia will be clean,” he famously told the court.

“I would not just go after the small fish, but also the sharks and the whales.”

His notoriety was only enhanced by his repeated “holidays” from prison during his trial, complete with clumsy disguises and paid for with generous bribes to prison guards and officials.

The vacations were exposed when a local newspaper photographer snapped him at a tennis tournament in Bali in November, wearing thick black spectacles and a wig.

A vigilant civilian later spotted him, wearing the same disguise, on a flight to Singapore in September.

Police eventually admitted he had obtained a fake passport and travelled to Singapore, Malaysia and Macau when he was supposed to be behind bars. On Tuesday it emerged that Tambunan had also obtained a false South American passport.

Anti-graft activists suspect the trips were part of his efforts to launder his ill-gotten gains.

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