Sixteen months after he was partially blinded in an acid attack on his walk home from prayers at a North Jakarta mosque, Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) chief investigator Novel Baswedan says he is now dedicated to Indonesia’s war on corruption more than ever.
By his count, it was the sixth attack on him since he joined the KPK. But what is less well known is that the unsolved assault represents what he calls the “tip of the iceberg” in a campaign of intimidation against the commission’s investigators and surveillance teams.
In a recent discussion with foreign journalists, Baswedan said “nothing has happened to reduce corruption,” which he blamed on increasingly sophisticated political interventions and the government’s failure to provide sufficient support to the country’s most popular institution according to opinion polls.
“It is not possible to guard KPK officials 24 hours a day,” he said. “The best protection is to leave it to the legal process and create a deterrent effect.” But he also acknowledges there is a long way to go to clean up the courts and the legal system.
“Those in power need to push harder,” he complained, referring to the “highest leaders” of President Joko Widodo’s administration. “The objective can only be achieved if there is immediacy and legal certainty.”
Baswedan, 41, a retired police lieutenant colonel and cousin of Jakarta governor and ex-education minister Anies Baswedan, lost sight in his left eye after two motorcycle-borne assailants threw hydrochloric acid in his face on the early morning of April 11, 2017.
His right eye was also affected, but after five operations in Singapore he has returned to his duties at the KPK, where he has led some of Indonesia’s most high-profile graft investigations since joining from the national police force in 2007.
At the time of the attack, he was probing the infamous electronic identity card (e-KTP) case, which led to the jailing last April of parliamentary speaker and Golkar Party chairman Setya Novanto, one of the country’s most powerful politicians.
Once described by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump as a “great man,” the 62-year-old, four-term lawmaker is serving 15 years imprisonment for masterminding the theft of US$244 million from the US$667 million e-KTP project in 2009.
The KPK is now focusing its attention on a cast of other high-profile politicians implicated in the single most egregious corruption scandal to hit the already graft-scarred House of Representatives since the birth of the democratic era.
Only last month, another prominent Golkar politician, newly-resigned Social Affairs Minister Idrus Marham, 56, became the first member of President Joko Widodo’s Cabinet to be indicted for corruption, this time in a case involving a Sumatran power station.
Once head of the parliamentary inquiry into the 2008 Bank Century bailout scandal, the former party secretary general was only appointed last January to replace Kofifah Parawansa, who left to make a successful run for the East Java governorship.
Baswedan won’t make the link to the acid attack against him to the e-KTP case, only saying that he and his team of lawyers will reveal “in due time” the irregularities in the police investigation into the case and the identity of the “intellectual actors” behind the assault.
“I’ve been an investigator for a long time,” he said. “This is not a difficult case to address, but records were not used and witnesses have been intimidated.” Says one source familiar with the case: “The only suspect is a policeman, working on behalf of a politician.”
Baswedan is also being helped by a team formed last January by the National Commission on Human Rights, which is expected to issue its own formal conclusion on why the case has dragged on for so long without a resolution.
It is no secret that Baswedan’s unrelenting approach to corruption made him an enemy of many of his former police superiors before he was finally allowed to quit as a serving officer in 2014 to become a permanent member of the KPK.
That conflict came to a head in 2012 with the indictment of flamboyant Major General Djoko Susilo, the country’s top traffic cop, who was subsequently sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment for the US$3.5 million in kick-backs he received in the awarding of a contract for driving simulators.
Susilo had amassed a US$18 million fortune in his 28 years of service and was the first active senior officer to be convicted of corruption in a force widely regarded as Indonesia’s most graft-ridden institution.
In 2015, President Joko Widodo was forced to intervene after then deputy police chief Budi Gunawan, a close friend of his ruling Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P) leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, ordered Baswedan’s arrest on a 2004 wrongful shooting charge.
Gunawan had previously been indicted for corruption, a charge that was never proven but which meant he was removed from the president’s list of potential candidates for police chief. He was later appointed director of the National Intelligence Agency (BIN), a job he still holds.
Meanwhile, the KPK continues to add to the list of 198 national and provincial lawmakers, 103 governors and mayors, 18 judges and 148 other high-level government officials it has convicted of corruption since the commission was first formed in 2003.
The latest prominent figure to be caught in the ever-expanding net is Aceh province Governor Irwandi Yusuf, one of the leaders of the now-dissolved Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebel group who was arrested in early July only four months after being re-elected to a post he had held between 2007 and 2012.
Baswedan says Indonesia’s whole law enforcement and judicial system needs a comprehensive overhaul to improve integration and close numerous loopholes that prevent convictions.
“Often the investigation is good, but the prosecution is not good,” he pointed out. “The judiciary must be solid, everything must be solid – from start to finish.”