Palm oil tycoon surrenders to Indonesian police over huge corruption case

Arie Firdaus
Palm oil tycoon surrenders to Indonesian police over huge corruption case Surya Darmadi (center), a palm oil tycoon and suspect in an alleged corruption scandal estimated to have caused state losses of 78 trillion rupiah (U.S. $5.2 billion), the largest in Indonesia’s history, arrives at the Attorney General’s Office in Jakarta, Aug. 15, 2022.
Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews

An Indonesian businessman suspected of converting forests into palm oil plantations as part of a mega corruption case was arrested upon arrival from overseas as he turned himself in on Monday after being on the run for eight years, the attorney general’s office said.  

Corruption involving the Duta Palma Group, a palm oil company belonging to Surya Darmadi, the suspect, allegedly cost the state 78 trillion rupiah (U.S. $5.2 billion) in potential losses, making it the largest corruption case in the country’s history, authorities said.  

Investigators interrogated Surya and took him into custody immediately after he arrived in Jakarta on a China Airlines flight from Taiwan, Attorney General Sanitiar Burhanuddin said. 

“Two weeks ago [Surya] wrote to us that he was turning himself in,” Burhanuddin told reporters. 

“Our team picked up the suspect, questioned him and will detain him for 20 days.” 

On Aug. 1, Burhanuddin announced that Surya, one of Indonesia’s richest men, was a suspect in a corruption case surrounding the conversion of 37,000 hectares of forests in Riau, a province on Sumatra island, into palm oil plantations. 

The regent of Indragiri Hulu at the time, Raja Thamsir Rachman, issued a permit to five companies belonging to Surya, but they did not obtain land-use rights before converting the forests into plantations, according to Burhanuddin. 

Thamsir, whose second term as regent ran from 2005 to 2008, is serving an eight-year sentence in a separate corruption case. 

The attorney general’s office had sent Surya three summons, but he failed to show up for questioning. 

Surya’s attorney, Juniver Girsang, said his client had been undergoing treatment abroad and his decision to come back to Indonesia was proof that he was not running away. 

“Reports that he had run away are not true. Our client is very cooperative and will follow all processes,” Juniver told reporters. 

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. 

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

The KPK said it was coordinating with the attorney general’s office to question the suspect. 

“KPK has met with the attorney general’s office to discuss the handling of the case in question,” said Ali Fikri, the commission’s spokesman. 

The estimated 78 trillion rupiah loss to the state included potential gains, from which local communities could have benefited had the company complied with rules that required it to allocate 20 percent of areas it controlled to farmers, said Ketut Sumedana, spokesman for the attorney general. 

Ketut said investigators had confiscated eight plantations managed by a subsidiary of Duta Palma and froze their bank accounts. 

The attorney general’s office also confiscated 15 properties linked to the company and its executives in South Jakarta, he said. 

In a 2009 report, the Rainforest Action Network said the Indonesian military had a 30 percent ownership stake in Duta Palma. Officials with the company could not be reached immediately for comment. 

Boyamin Saiman, an activist at the Indonesian Anti-Corruption Society (MAKI), praised the attorney general’s office for its “progressiveness” by taking into account the loss of potential benefits to the local population. 

“The attorney general’s office didn’t just come up with a number. There is a value in forest use. This is a new method in calculating state losses,” Boyamin told BenarNews. 

He contrasted that with the loss of 3 billion rupiah estimated by the anti-corruption commission as a result of Surya’s alleged actions. 

Meanwhile, Wawan Suyatmiko, deputy secretary general of Transparency International Indonesia, questioned the KPK’s competence. 

“In 2019 they issued a travel ban for him, but [Surya] managed to escape and refused to return. Now the attorney general’s office had summoned him and he was willing to return. This says a lot about the KPK’s performance,” he told BenarNews.


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Winston L
Aug 16, 2022 10:34 PM

Corruption seems rampant in South East Asia. Just yesterday a former Malaysia prime minister lost his bid to bring in purported new evidence to overturn the decision which found him guilty at the High Court and Court of Appeal levels.