Indonesia’s anti-graft chief found guilty of ethics breach amid bribery scandal

Arie Firdaus
Indonesia’s anti-graft chief found guilty of ethics breach amid bribery scandal People wearing masks depicting Syahrul Yasin Limpo, ex-agriculture minister, and the then-chair of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Firli Bahuri, protest outside the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) building in Jakarta, Nov. 23, 2023.
Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters

Indonesia’s embattled anti-graft watchdog suffered another blow Wednesday after an internal ethics council found the agency’s suspended chairman guilty of gross ethics violations and demanded he resign.

Firli Bahuri, the erstwhile chief of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), made unauthorized contact with a graft suspect and failed to declare assets, the KPK’s Ethics Council said. 

Meanwhile, Firli had submitted a resignation letter to the president earlier this month, but it was returned to him on technical grounds. The matter remains unresolved as Firli did not formally confirm on Wednesday whether he would resign as the ethics council demanded.

Police last month had named Firli a suspect in extorting the former agriculture minister, Syahrul Yasin Limpo, in exchange for leniency in the latter’s graft case.

“The Ethics Council has concluded that Firli Bahuri violated the KPK’s code of ethics by meeting with Syahrul Yasin Limpo, who was a target of an ongoing KPK investigation,” Tumpak told a news conference. 

“The defendant had the opportunity to refuse or not communicate by ignoring Syahrul Yasin Limpo’s messages, but he did not do that. He even actively contacted Syahrul several times.”

The five-member ethics council also accused Firli of serious misconduct for failing to or misreporting his wealth as a state official. He had rented a luxury house in a posh South Jakarta neighborhood, where he met Syahrul, without declaring it, the council said.

The ethics council’s verdict is irreversible and cannot be appealed, said Hatorangan Panggabean Tumpak, the council’s chair.

Firli’s lawyer, Ian Iskandar, did not respond to BenarNews inquiries. He had previously denied that Firli extorted money and favors from Syahrul in exchange for dropping the case. 

The national police are investigating the extortion claims.

The police did not disclose the amount of money involved, but local media reported it was about U.S. $200,000. Syahrul, in turn, is awaiting trial for allegedly soliciting bribes from subordinates and contractors at the ministry. He resigned as minister in October.

Firli has claimed the charges against him are politically motivated attempts to tarnish his name. 

Earlier this month, he filed a pre-trial challenge against his status as a suspect, but a court dismissed it.

He was also absent at the ethics hearings, and it appeared he was trying to stall the investigation.

‘History of integrity problems’ 

Firli is the first KPK chairman to face corruption charges since the agency was established in 2003.

His appointment four years ago as KPK chairman was itself a flawed process, said Zaenur Rohman, an anti-corruption researcher at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.

“Firli has a history of integrity problems, but he was appointed anyway. This means that all along, the political elite had wanted a problematic figure to lead the commission,” Zaenur told BenarNews.

KPK once stood as a beacon of hope in Indonesia’s struggle against entrenched corruption. But its reputation has been marred in recent years by what activists believe to be political interference.

In particular, KPK’s independent reputation was tarnished after the passage of a 2019 law to reform the agency.

The law, passed under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s watch, included the establishment of a supervisory board that curbed KPK’s investigative powers.

It also mandated that employees take a civics test, which critics alleged was designed to get rid of the agency’s veteran investigators. 

In 2021, dozens of employees and senior investigators were sacked after failing this test.


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