Indonesian court sentences business tycoon to 15 years in huge corruption case

Nazarudin Latif
Indonesian court sentences business tycoon to 15 years in huge corruption case Surya Darmadi (center) arrives for his sentencing hearing at the Central Jakarta District Court’s Corruption Eradication Unit, Feb. 23, 2023.
Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews

An Indonesian court on Thursday sentenced a palm oil tycoon to 15 years after finding him guilty of misusing forest concessions, which prosecutors said cost the state U.S. $5.1 billion.

The Central Jakarta District Court’s Corruption Eradication Unit also ordered Surya Darmadi, who turns 72 next month, to pay 41.9 trillion rupiah ($2.7 billion) as compensation for actual and projected losses to the state, or see his sentence increase.

“Failure to pay the compensation money will result in [the convict’s] properties being confiscated] or an additional five years in prison,” presiding judge Fahzal Hendri ruled.

The judges said Surya’s age, politeness and his company’s contributions to infrastructure, education and employment of 21,000 people were mitigating factors.

The prosecutors had sought a life sentence for Surya and a fine of 73.9 trillion rupiah ($4.8 billion).

Surya was arrested as he arrived in the country last year after being on the run for eight years.

His company, Duta Palma Group, converted 37,095 hectares of forest land in Riau province into palm oil plantations. He also paid a bribe to the regent of Indragiri Hulu in return for issuing permits for the plantations, according to his indictment.

Regent Raja Thamsir Rachman, who is serving an eight-year sentence in a separate corruption case, issued a permit to five companies belonging to Surya, but those companies did not obtain land-use rights before converting the forests into plantations, according to the prosecution.

To reach the estimated 78 trillion rupiah loss, officials included potential gains for local communities had Surya’s company complied with rules that required allocation of 20% of the area to farmers, the attorney general’s office said last year.

In 2014, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) named Surya a suspect for allegedly paying 3 billion rupiah ($200,000) in kickbacks to then-Riau Gov. Annas Maamun to pave the way for changes to local forestry regulations in favor of his company.

Surya managed to evade questioning by staying overseas, authorities alleged.

He and his team of attorneys said they plan to challenge the ruling.

“After we discussed it, we thank you for the panel’s decision, but we have agreed that today we will also appeal the panel’s decision,” attorney Juniver Girsang said after the hearing.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, said they would spend the next few days to decide whether to appeal.

Hibnu Nugroho, a legal analyst at Jenderal Soedirman University in Purwokerto, said the sentence was too lenient considering the harm the company has done.

“If it doesn’t serve as deterrence, there will be similar cases,” he told BenarNews.

Pizaro Gozali Idrus in Jakarta contributed to the report.


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