JAKARTA - Indonesia's Inspector General of Police had just withstood eight hours of interrogation on the night of Oct. 5, last year at the Jakarta headquarters of Indonesia's anti-corruption agency when a commotion erupted outside.
Investigators from the Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its Indonesian initials KPK, had accused Djoko Susilo of amassing land, cars, mansions and stacks of cash. His arrest was an unprecedented strike against a police force with a long-held reputation for graft in a country routinely ranked as among the most corrupt in the world. The counter punch came swiftly. At about 9 p.m. that night, dozens of policemen descended upon the KPK headquarters with one demand: hand over Novel Baswedan, 36, the celebrated investigator who had led the interrogation of Susilo.
But the police didn't reckon on a remarkable show of public support.
Hundreds of protesters, lawyers, activists and journalists soon arrived to barricade the entrance of the KPK building, summoned by text messages from an anonymous KPK official. After a three-hour standoff, the police squadron left. Nearaly a year later, on Sept. 3, Susilo was sentenced to 10 years in prison and the state seized US$10.4 million (S$12.9 million) of his assets.
It was a narrow escape for Baswedan, himself a former policeman and now lionized as"supercop" by Indonesian media, and once again, also for the anti-corruption agency. Since its establishment in 2002, the KPK has become, contrary to all expectations, a fiercely independent, resilient, popular and successful institution that is a constant thorn in the side of Indonesia's establishment.
Reuters spent six months examining the KPK and their campaign against corruption, gaining rare access to the agency and interviewing senior police officials, politicians, business leaders, members of Yudhoyono's inner circle and the president himself.
The KPK has won guilty verdicts in all 236 cases it has fought. Its arrests of cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, central bankers, CEOs, a judge and even a former beauty queen have exposed how widespread and systemic corruption is in Indonesia. It has certainly made big ticket abuses of power far riskier in Indonesia.
But its success is becoming more costly. Reuters also found an overwhelmed and underfunded agency that faces mounting opposition from parliament, police and the presidency. The KPK's popularity has so far been its most effective buffer against such attacks, especially in the run-up to next year's parliamentary and presidential elections. Any attempt to eviscerate the commission would almost certainly cost votes. "The KPK's only friend is the public," says Dadang Trisasongko, secretary general of the Indonesian chapter of global corruption watchdog Transparency International.