Bigger Fish Yet to Fry

Vincentius Amin Sutanto knew with whom he was dealing. To his lawyer, the former financial controller of Asian Agri Group, born in Singkawang on January 21, 1963, requested that the case he was mired in not be tried yet. “To assist the investigation into the case that he reported,” said Petrus Bala Pattyona, Vincentius’s lawyer.

Vincent, his nickname, reported suspicions of tax evasion committed by Asian Agri Group, one of the major companies belonging to Raja Garuda Mas owned by Sukanto Tanoto, to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Afterwards, on December 14, 2006, he surrendered himself to the Jakarta Police, after being hunted down for embezzling company money. However, his request was denied. His case was handed over to the West Jakarta District Court. On Monday of last week, the agenda entered the witness examination phase.

Vincent is being tried for suspicions of embezzling funds belonging to PT Asian Agri Oil & Fats Ltd, one of Asian Agri Group’s subsidiaries. In his accusation, prosecutor Supardi stated that Vincent and his two friends, Hendry Susilo, 48, and Agustinus Ferry Sutanto, 32, embezzled their company’s money. Vincent is alleged to have forged the signature of a high official of PT Asian Agri Oil, and funneled the money which he stated to be “ownerless” to two companies’ accounts.

Previously, charged Supardi, Vincent had asked the two colleagues to establish two companies, PT Asian Agri Jaya and PT Asian Agri Utama, and open accounts in Bank Panin in West Jakarta. He also asked for stamps for the two companies PT to be made.

Afterwards, he transferred Sukanto’s company money to the new companies’ accounts. On November 13, 2006, Vincent prepared two transfer applications from PT Asian Agri Oil & Fats Ltd, in Fortis Bank in Singapore to US$1.2 million to PT Asian Agri Utama and US$1.9 million to PT Asian Agri Jaya. The applications were made and signed by Vincent by forging the signature of a high official at PT Asian Agri Oil.

So went the money amounting to approximately US$3.1 million. On November 16, Hendry withdrew Rp200 million, Rp150 million of which was given to Vincent. Hendry had also planned to withdraw the same amount, but cancelled it because Vincent said that the money was problematical. Vincent then fled to Singapore before returning to Jakarta and reporting to the KPK.

The prosecutor charged Vincent under the Money Laundering Law. “Vincentius received money that came from a crime,” said prosecutor Supardi. The prosecutor also charged him with fraud under the Criminal Code for forging signatures.

Petrus deems the charges premature. Vincent is being charged with a money-laundering clause for stealing money that was allegedly from tax evasion, while the tax evasion case itself hasn’t been tried yet. “The main case should be tried first to prove whether the money was a result of a crime or not,” said Petrus.

In Petrus’s opinion, his client’s good service by revealing suspicions of tax manipulations at his company should be recognized. “Because this helps save state money,” he said. According to Petrus, Vincent asked to be given the opportunity to prove his report. “With his being tried and detained in Salemba Prison, he can’t assist in revealing the case,” added Petrus.

According to Eva Kusumandari, a member of the House of Representatives (DPR), who also drew up the Witness Protection law (UU No.13/2006), although he leaked his company’s treachery, Vincent still can’t escape the law. The Witness Protection Law, said Eva, only provides protection to whistle blowers from the case that they reveal. “If they have another criminal case, they can’t escape,” said Eva.

In the eye of the Witness Protection Coalition’s spokesperson, Supriyadi, this is one of the weaknesses of Law No. 13/2006. “The protection is still partial,” he said. According to Supriyadi, in several developed countries such as the United States, regulations on witness protection make it possible for whistle blowers to negotiate their testimonies with acquittal or reduction of punishment on other criminal acts. “The principle is to let the small fry go to catch the sharks,” he said.

A similar opinion was voiced by criminal law expert Indriyanto Seno Adji. According to Indriyanto, those who report corruption cases should receive legal protection. In a case such as Vincent’s, Indriyanto said, protection can be given by prioritizing bringing to trial the tax evasion first. Not by trying Vincent first. “If this is what happens, no one will want to be whistle blowers,” said the lecturer at the School of Law, University of Indonesia.

Abdul Manan, Muhammad Nafi (Jakarta)

Tempo Magazine, No. 38/VII/May 22 – 28, 2007

Economy & Business

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