Arrest of top Indonesian customs official highlights stalled reform

Arrest of top Indonesian customs official highlights stalled reform

INDONESIA - The recent arrest of Heru Sulistyono, a high-ranking customs and excise official on bribery and money-laundering charges, has called into question the Finance Ministry's ability to reform and root out corruption at the Customs and Excise Directorate General.

Heru, the head of the customs and excise import-export subdivision, has been in police custody since Tuesday for his alleged involvement in a bribery and money-laundering case totaling Rp 11 billion (S$1.2 million).

The National Police suspect that a businessman named Yusran Arif bribed Heru to help his companies avoid paying tax in 2007, the year that then-finance minister, Sri Mulyani, launched full-scale bureaucratic and civil service reforms within the ministry.

In mid-2007, former customs director general Anwar Supriyadi conducted a major rotation as part of the reform agenda set out by Sri Mulyani, who was widely perceived as a reform icon.

In the same year, Heru was appointed enforcement and supervision head at the Tanjung Priok Customs and Excise Office, tasked with supervising the country's primary and busiest port, according to the directorate general's spokesman, Haryo Limanseto.

It remains unclear whether Heru was involved in the reshuffle.

The Tanjung Priok office was then led by Agung Kuswandono, the current customs and excise director general.

The National Police's special economic crimes director, Brig. Gen. Arief Sulistyanto, hinted that more individuals could be implicated in the case, as the police had discovered more than 20 bank accounts linked to Heru's illicit transactions.

The Financial Transaction and Report Analysis Centre (PPATK) found that Heru had accumulative financial transactions totaling more than Rp 60 billion between 2009 and 2012. Meanwhile, the police discovered that Heru owned five houses in West Java's Bekasi and Banten.

In 2011, Heru filed his 2011 wealth report with the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), declaring that he possessed total wealth of Rp 1.2 billion and US$20,000 (S$24,804) in cash.

"Aside from interrogating the suspect, we are intensifying our financial transaction analysis. We have asked the PPATK to check [the bank accounts]," he said on Thursday.

Commenting on the possible involvement of more officials, National Police chief Comr. Gen. Sutarman said, "[This is] still in progress. Do not mention that now."

Haryo played down suggestions that his office had failed to reform itself, saying that it had implemented strict measures to combat graft.

"The directorate general has always been committed to bureaucratic reform. We impose sanctions on any officials who break the rules. Last year, 84 officials received sanctions for ethical and disciplinary violations. So far this year, 41 officials [have been sanctioned]," he said.

However, antigraft activists expressed their doubts regarding his claim, and demanded that law enforcers dig deeper into Heru's case.

Emerson Yuntho from Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) said Heru may just represent the tip of there iceberg, as there could be many other corrupt officials who remained untouched, despite the reform programme launched by Sri Mulyani.

"The improvements to the system were not followed up with strong supervision or sanctions," Emerson said on Thursday.

"I don't believe that Heru acted alone. He may have had subordinates who knew [what was going on] or who accepted a portion of the bribes. [The police] should summon his superintendents and subordinates," he concluded.

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