Jakarta. Judicial Commission chairman Suparman Marzuki has promised to investigate a suspiciously lenient sentence handed by a Sorong court to a police officer charged with money laundering and smuggling offenses.
Adj. First Insp Labora Sitorus, allegedly known as a “cash machine” for higher-ranking police in West Papua province, is to be punished with just two years’ prison and a small fine of Rp 50 million ($4,250) despite evidence that he laundered up to Rp 1.5 trillion in criminal proceeds. The charges brought by prosecutors, which included fuel smuggling and exporting a protected timber species, had seen him facing a possible 20 years.
“The two-year sentence handed down to Labora Sitorus by the Sorong District Court is an unbelievable verdict, there is something [suspicious] about it,” Suparman told reporters in Jayapura on Wednesday.
Suparman attributed the very lenient sentence to several factors.
“There are several patterns behind the unbelievable sentence. The first is weak preliminary and full investigations, secondly blurred or weak charges or indictment, and third the judges’ verdict falling far short [of the prosecution’s request],” Suparman said.
Suparman said he had been monitoring Labora’s case since it first emerged. “We will probe this unbelievable verdict and we have set up a team and it will work to investigate this,” he said.
Suparman said he had heard that investigators in Labora’s case were at one time ordered to stop through an official “SP3” warrant.
Asked whether the SP3 was recommended by a police general, Suparman nodded. “Yes, there’s some information but what have the people at the Police Commission done?”
Suparman said the Judicial Commission investigation would root out the motivation behind the lenient verdict.
“There was something behind the verdict, whether it was bribery or something else and that’s what we’re going to investigate,” he said.
A judge in Jayapura who wished to remain anonymous, agreed that the two-year verdict was absurd.
“The judges’ verdict was like setting him free,” he said .
Dian Adriawan, a criminal law expert at Jakarta’s Trisakti University, also questioned on Monday the court’s decision to acquit Labora of the most serious charge under the nation’s 2010 Anti-Money-Laundering Law.
“If he had been convicted of Article 3 of the law on laundering criminal proceeds, then the court would also have had to convict him of the connected charge under Article 5,” Dian said, referring to the provision, which makes it a criminal offence to receive laundered funds.
A money-laundering conviction for Labora would therefore have obliged the court to publicly name the recipients of the criminal proceeds, which allegedly include high-ranking police officers, Dian said.
Prosecutors had also indicted Labora under the 2002 Oil and Gas Law for fuel smuggling, but the court also acquitted him of that charge.
Labora was instead found guilty only on one charge under the 1999 Forestry Law.
Had the court found him guilty on all three charges, besides 20 years in prison he could have been fined up to Rp 10 billion.
Labora’s sentence has also drawn criticism from overseas. UK-based conservation organization the Environmental Investigation Agency said on Thursday that it had documented Labora’s forestry crimes back in 2009, and had since been waiting for justice to be delivered. His lenient treatment made a mockery of Indonesia’s timber legality scheme, EIA said.
National Police director of special economic crimes Arief Sulistyono claimed that the police had taken every step to investigate Labora’s case.
“In terms of investigation, we have made maximum efforts to pull up evidence,” Arief said at the National Police headquarters on Wednesday.
He said it wasn’t true that it was only the police investigating one of their own, but that they collaborated with other government institutions to build the case against Labora.
“The National Police didn’t work alone, there was the PPATK [Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center] and the Attorney General’s Office. We analyzed it together,” Arief said.
Based on the joint investigation, those institutions concluded that Labora’s wealth was ill-gotten, made through money laundering for illegal oil, gas and logging deals.
“If the activities were illegal, then the proceeds are also illegal,” he stated.
Arief said the crimes committed by Labora resulted in handsome profits with which he was able to avoid justice through various efforts.
“If needed, [Labora] would bribe investigators. But we have commitments. That’s the dynamics of law enforcement. If criminals collaborate, then why can’t law enforcers also collaborate to capture them?” Arief said.
Labora’s case electrified the nation last year when the National Police confirmed findings by anti-money-laundering watchdog PPATK that Rp 1.5 trillion in suspicious funds had passed through the low-ranking officer’s bank accounts between 2007 and 2012.
Police then seized a boat, registered in Labora’s name, carrying 400,000 liters of subsidized fuel, which they alleged was smuggled into Papua to be sold at a markup.
Worst of all in many people’s minds was confirmation that police were apparently involved in illegally destroying the country’s irreplaceable old-growth forests. More than 100 containers of the rare tropical hardwood merbau found at Surabaya’s port and destined for China were also traced back to the officer.
Merbau, a highly valued timber, has been placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species and is prohibited for export in its rough-sawn form.
At the time of Labora’s arrest, expectations were high that the ensuing investigation would net higher-ranking officers who were widely believed to have taken kickbacks for allowing the illegal operations to run for years.
However, no other suspects from the police force were ever named, and the two-year sentence handed down on Monday only confirmed that local authorities were trying to shield senior officers, Dian said.
“I believe there’s a cover-up," he said. "They’ve got the proof of the crime, so it’s simply bizarre that they haven’t traced where the proceeds went."
He added it was inconceivable that a lone, low-ranking officer like Labora would have been able to operate schemes of this scale for years without help from more senior police officers.
Indonesia Police Watch chair Neta S. Pane said IPW deplores the court’s failure to name the 33 high-ranking police officers believed to have taken a cut of Labora’s operations.
“It’s a shame that the various testimonies and evidence presented at the trial were not considered by the panel of judges,” Neta said. “From here it’s pretty apparent that the police are covering up for their members who received money from Labora, and that they are being protected by the force and will never be prosecuted.”
The Papua Public Prosecutor’s Office said it would immediately file an appeal with the West Papua High Court.
“A two-year sentence is far below the prosecutors’ request of 15 years,” said E.S. Maruli Hutagalung, head of the prosecutor’s office. “Clearly it’s not commensurate with our demand, so we’re filing an appeal.”
Colleagues and associates
Among the high-ranking police who are alleged to have received funds laundered by Labora is Papua Police chief Insp. Gen. Tito Karnavian. Tito is alleged to have received Rp 629 million in payments traced from Labora’s bank accounts, according to a Tempo.co report which quoted Labora’s evidence to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).
“I can guarantee 100 percent that Insp. Gen. Tito Karnavian did not receive even one cent from Labora Sitorus,” Papua Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr Sulistyo Pudjo Hartono told the Jakarta Globe recently.
Sulistyo said it was highly unlikely Tito would have received funds from Labora, as he did not assume his position as Papua Police chief until September 2012. The funds which are said to have flowed to several high-ranking officers in Papua were allegedly distributed between January and June that year.
“This is just a rumor. Please don’t exaggerate it, give us some evidence instead,” Sulistyo said.
He refuted claims that Tito received money from Labora during a 2013 visit to the Raja Ampat area along with businessman Tomy Winata and former Deputy National Police chief Comr. Gen. Nanan Sukarna. Labora was previously stationed at Raja Ampat.
However, Sulistyo admitted that at least 17 Papua Police officers have been investigated for allegedly receiving funds from Labora.
For his part, Labora has claimed that he was the fall guy in a wider network involving a number of high-ranking police officers who were looking for loopholes to shut down or take over his business enterprises.
“I am the victim of a conspiracy set up by people who have business intentions in Sorong,” he said. Labora said he regularly transferred money to several officers in police divisions in Papua and Jakarta.
Also among those suspected of receiving funds were two former Papua Police chiefs, Insp. Gen. Bekto Suprapto and Insp. Gen. Bigman Luman Tobing.
“We are still looking into that matter, let’s not accuse anyone without proof,” Sulistyo said.
Aside from police officers, investigators also named two civilian suspects — the operational directors of timber firm Rotua and fuel company Seno Adi Wijaya, identified as I.N. and J.L. respectively.
Labora was arrested in May 2013 following the seizure of the 400,000 liters of fuel from the boat registered in his name. Around a million liters of fuel were eventually confiscated.
Later in May, police at Surabaya’s Tanjung Perak port seized 115 containers with 2,264 cubic meters of merbau logs allegedly belonging to Labora. The illegal timber, which came from the West Papua district of Sorong, is estimated to be worth $20 million at current market prices.
Most of Indonesia’s remaining merbau trees are in Papua, where large tracts of virgin forest remain unexploited, unlike the heavily deforested islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.
But with loggers having exhausted the western forests, many are now turning their attention to Papua, with the result that the province has lost a quarter of its forests over the past 12 years.
Correction: This version removes the word 'controversial' in describing businessman Tomy Winata.