x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Taxman who took millions in bribes jailed for 7 years

Indonesian trial exposes vast web of corruption allegedly involving top police, prosecutors, judges, prison wardens and companies linked to powerful politicians.

JAKARTA // A court in Indonesia sentenced a notorious tax official to seven years in jail today after he had allegedly amassed millions of dollars in illegal payoffs from corporate taxpayers.

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.

Indonesians have grown to expect nothing but the worst from corrupt institutions like the police and tax department, but Tambunan's exploits stunned even this graft-ridden nation.

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.

Tambunan, wearing a brown batik shirt, listened intently and showed little emotion as the judges read out the sentence, which was much less than the 20 years sought by prosecutors.

In a press conference inside the court after the verdict had been read and before he was led away, he promised to help authorities expose the dark forces behind his extraordinary wealth.

"I'm actually committed to assisting the task force on the legal mafia to probe what's wrong in Indonesia so it can be a better country," he said.

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

His official salary was only a few hundred dollars but 28 billion rupiah ($3.1 million) was found in his bank accounts, money he said came from companies linked to the powerful Golkar party chief Aburizal Bakrie.

Mr 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 seven trillion rupiah ($780 million) in lost revenue, according to a tally by Tempo news magazine.

He was re-arrested in neighbouring 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 involving scores of companies, police, prosecutors and judges.

"Make me an adviser 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 his remand cell, 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 the Commonwealth Tennis Tournament in Bali in November, wearing thick black spectacles and a thick wig.

Another vigilant civilian later reported she had 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.

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

A political analyst, Arbi Sanit, said the sentence was "too light".

"But then again, the verdict came from a regular district court, which is famous for its corruption and injustice," he said.