Mistaken Verdict

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    illustration of court hammer. legaljuice.com

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - A Pekanbaru court acquitted bribery suspect who gave money to former Riau governor Annas Maamun. The Supreme Court must look into the motives behind this verdict.

    THE eradication of corruption in Indonesia recently is like the old saying about moss growing on a rock. After the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has "no will to live, nor will to die" as a result of a being enfeebled by law, now the courts have also lost their enthusiasm to deal with wrongdoers.

    In September, the Corruption Court freed Suheri Terta, who had been charged with bribing Annas Maamun, governor of Riau from February to September 2014. Suheri was accused of paying a Rp3 billion bribe to obtain a recommendation allowing forest in Indragiri Hulu Regency, Riau to be converted into an oil palm plantation.

    Suheri is a big time-player. He was involved in the burning of forests in Pelalawan, Riau in 2009. After being found guilty in an appeal court in 2015, he went on the run. The Riau Attorney General's Office detained Suheri a month after the KPK named him as a suspect in the May 2019 bribery of Annas Maamun.

    Suheri allegedly paid a bribe to Annas via Gulat Medali Emas Manurung, a trusted associate of Annas. In court, Annas and Gulat named Suheri as the payer of the bribe. However, the court rejected this testimony. Gulat and Annas received their separate punishments. Strangely, the judges ignored the guilty verdicts of Gulat and Annas that mentioned the role of Suheri, whose acquittal meant that the origin of the bribe became unclear.

    If Suheri had not been cleared, the investigators would have had an opportunity to follow the trail to the end. Surya Darmadi, a palm oil businessman alleged to have provided the bribe, is still on the run. The KPK could also have examined the role of former forestry minister Zulkifli Hasan, who admitted meeting Surya to discuss oil palm permits in Riau.

    The conversion of forest into oil palm plantations has wide-ranging and drastic effects. The clearing of land for oil palms destroys the forest habitats of wild plants and animals. These plantations also reduce the level of soil nutrients and the volume of groundwater. According to research by Azwar Maas from the Forestry Faculty at Gadjah Mada University, to make one kilogram of oil palm seeds, each tree needs 400 liters of water a day. The clearing of forests also often results in the eviction of indigenous communities. And the environmental disaster of haze often follows because businesspeople illegally clear land by burning forests to save on operational costs.

    At present, Duta Palma, a part of the Darmex Agro group that includes the four companies that allegedly bribed Annas Maamun, controls 40,000 hectares of oil palm plantations in Riau. According to the plantations directorate-general of the ministry of agriculture, Riau has the largest area of oil palms in Indonesia -- 4.2 million hectares as of the end of last year. The special committee of the Riau Provincial Legislative Council found that 1.8 million hectares of this area does not have a permit, meaning it is on land that is still classified as forest.

    The future of justice is now in the hands of the Supreme Court. The prosecutors have lodged an appeal. The Court must not close its eyes to the evidence against Suheri. The oversight of judges must be tightened. The Supreme Court Oversight Board and the Judicial Commission must work hard to uncover the judges' motives in the acquittal of the suspect. Suheri is the fourth KPK suspect to be freed by the courts. As well as this, recently 21 people convicted of corruption received a "discount" on their sentences from the Supreme Court.

    At the time of environmental destruction and the calamity of haze resulting from the conversion of forests into oil palm plantations, corrupters and crooked business people are now celebrating.

    Read the Complete Story in Tempo English Magazine