The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) should not feel deterred when it investigates the tax scandal allegedly involving the president’s brother-in-law, Arif Budi Sulistyo.
Joko Widodo’s promise not to interfere in this major bribery case should be held in full not only by the president, but also by all government officials. The rumor of a presidential aide trying to ‘hush up’ the case should not influence the KPK.
Arif’s name emerged two weeks ago, during the trial of Ramapanicker Rajamohanan, owner of EK Prima Ekspor Indonesia company. Rajamohan was caught bribing tax office official Handang Soekarno to avoid having to pay taxes on his ailing company.
Rajamohanan paid Handang Rp1.9 billion out of a total Rp6 billion that had been promised to erase a Rp76 billion tax bill owed by his company. Allegedly, this bribe was ‘facilitated’ by Arif.
There are two possible explanations why Rajamohanan named Arif in his trial. First, he did not want to go down alone, given that the collusion was a collective endeavor.
Secondly, he wanted to prove that he had powerful backers and in this way, still hoped that he would receive a lighter sentence, or even be released entirely.
Another name that emerged during the trial was Ken Dwijugiasteadi, the tax director-general.
The appearance of Arif’s name on Rajamohanan’s charge sheet does not automatically prove that President Jokowi’s brother-in-law is guilty. But Arif’s long friendship with the businessman from Kerala, India, cannot simply be ignored.
If Rajamohanan can be believed, the two men have been friends for 10 years, a long time. Therefore, Rajamohanan had every right to refer to Arif as a ‘friend’ who could be asked to help resolve the tax problems afflicting his company.
But it is not right to assume that over the course of this decade-long friendship, Arif repeatedly ‘assisted’ Rajamohanan. The KPK only started discreetly investigating Arif a month ago. It was only when his name came up at the Corruption Court that the link between the two became clear.
It is by no means certain that President Jokowi knew, let alone gave his blessings, to his brother-in-law’s ‘goodness’ in helping the company with its tax problems. But it is not impossible that questions will be asked about Arif’s business activities.
He is the operations director of Rakabu Sejahtera, a furniture company that owns a factory in Solo, Central Java, and that produces furniture from teak.
Rakabu Sejahtera is a cooperative venture between Rakabu, a company owned by the family of President Joko Widodo, and Toba Sejahtera, a company owned by Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, now coordinating minister for maritime affairs.
Joko Widodo’s family owns 51 percent of the shares, while Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan owns the other 49 percent. The joint venture was set up in 2007.
This means that Arif is no ordinary businessman. He is close to and has access to the center of power. He has not only ties of friendship, but also business links with decision makers.
In a primordial society, this position would make him not only untouchable, but would also mean he was readily accepted if not given the nod by the bureaucracy responsible for making decisions.
Arif’s activities have harmed the dignity of his brother-in-law. There is a significant risk for Joko Widodo, who has repeatedly promised especially in the media that his government would be clean and transparent.
This scandal broke when President Jokowi was enthusiastically trying to rein in tax evaders through a tax amnesty program.
In addition to standing firm, President Jokowi Widodo should improve the recruitment of administration officials. The way state and palace officials have been selected based on business ties of friendship, for example, does not leave a good impression.
President Joko Widodo should ‘not dip his hand into muddy water’. Let the investigation and trial proceed as they must. Anyone invoking the name of the president to halt an investigation should be dealt with.
In the midst of the war on corruption, every effort to hinder law enforcement in the case of his brother-in-law would make the president look bad. He would be seen as a hypocrite, accused of not being able to see the wood for the trees.