JAKARTA (Reuters) - An Indonesian court sentenced a businesswoman to five years in jail on Tuesday for bribing a public prosecutor to drop a high-profile investigation in a scandal that has rocked the Attorney General’s office.
The case has dominated the news in Indonesia over the past few months, leading to the removal of several officials and raising questions about Indonesia’s commitment to tackling corruption, particularly when it relates to big, powerful business interests.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono won Indonesia’s first direct presidential election in 2004 on promises to reduce widespread graft, boost the economy and create more jobs. Many businesses cite corruption as a deterrent to investment in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
A judge at the corruption court said that Artalyta Suryani, a 45-year-old businesswoman, was found guilty of bribing Urip Tri Gunawan, a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s office who handled a graft case against Indonesian tycoon Sjamsul Nursalim.
Gunawan had led the prosecutors’ investigation into the alleged misuse of central bank funds by Nursalim’s bank at the time of the Asian financial crisis, but his office dropped the investigation earlier this year.
Bank Indonesia, the central bank, provided liquidity funds to several banks during the 1997-98 financial crisis in an attempt to prevent the collapse of the banking system. Nursalim’s bank was later taken over by the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency.
Nursalim had ranked among Indonesia’s richest tycoons, with companies in his Gajah Tunggal group ranging from shrimp farms to tire manufacturers.
Nursalim is now reported to be living in Singapore, but his family still has businesses in Indonesia, including retailers.
Mansyurdin Chaniago, a judge at the court, said that Suryani was found guilty of corruption, and sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of 250 million rupiah ($27,420).
“Her deeds have injured the judicial system in Indonesia,” said Chaniago.
Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), a body set up by Yudhoyono to help the Attorney General’s office crack down on graft, caught Gunawan in March with $660,000 in cash in his car after he came out of Suryani’s house, a week after his office had called off the investigation.
The case has attracted plenty of public attention. Transcripts of the tapped phone calls between the various players were turned into a popular ringtone for mobile phones.
Suryani, who is a friend of the Nursalim family, and Gunawan have denied giving and receiving bribes, saying the money that Suryani paid was intended to help the prosecutor establish a workshop and jeweler business.
Gunawan is being tried separately and faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years if found guilty.
Reporting by Telly Nathalia; Writing by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Sara Webb