Key Witness to Sukanto Tantoto’s corruption

A significant piece of narrative non-fiction that is likely to endure long after the specifics of Indonesia’s biggest tax scandal have entered the history books.

JANET STEELE
Associate professor
School of Media and Public Affairs
George Washington University

The Biggest Tax Case in Indonesia’s History

“SAKSI KUNCI” is a narrative non-fiction book which tells about the journey of investigative reporting by journalist Metta Dharmasaputra into the biggest case of tax evasion in the Indonesia’s history by the Asian Agri Group. Owned by Sukanto Tanoto, Asian Agri is one of the world’s largest oil palm plantation companies. Forbes Asia ranked Sukanto the richest person in Indonesia in 2006 and 2008 (with an estimated worth of $ 2.8 billion). Since 2002 he has lived in Singapore.

Asian Agri evaded taxes by suppressing profits earned in Indonesia and transferring them to affiliated companies overseas. Three modus operandi were employed: claiming fictitious expenditure in the company in Indonesia, and making fictitious futures contracts with and transfer pricing to affiliated companies overseas in countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Mauritius and the British Virgin Islands.

As a result of this tax manipulation, the Directorate General of Taxation estimated a loss to the state between 2002 and 2005 at least Rp 1.3 trillion (around $ 130 million).  The Directorate General of Taxation investigation team has named 11 top Asian Agri executives as suspects. The tax authorities also found and seized 1,400 boxes (about 9 truckloads) of documents hidden by Asian Agri in a lamp shop.

The Supreme Court in December 2012 has ordered Asian Agri to pay a Rp 2.5 trillion ($250 million) fine for tax evasion, the biggest in the nation’s history. Asian Agri also must pay the principal plus penalty of tax arrears amounting to Rp 2 trilllion ($200 million) to the Directorate General of Taxation.

This crime was exposed thanks to allegations made by Vincentius Amin Sutanto, Asian Agri’s Group Financial Controller, to the Corruption Eradication Commission and Directorate General of Taxation. Vincent made the allegations after his $3.1 million embezzlement of the Asian Agri Abadi Oils & Fats Ltd. (a subsidiary of Asian Agri Group) account at the Singapore branch of  Fortis Bank was uncovered. He fled to Singapore, but later turned himself in to the Indonesian police, and decided to become a whistleblower and justice collaborator.

Investigative Reporting

“Saksi Kunci” takes citizens, journalists and students beyond the black and white world of textbook journalism into the real world of investigative reporting and its ethical dilemmas. It’s Metta Dharmasaputra’s gripping story of how he uncovered massive tax evasion and corruption by one of Indonesia’s biggest corporate players.

WENDY BACON
Professorial Fellow, Australian Centre for Independent Journalism

As a Tempo magazine journalist Metta Dharmasaputra began making this report in November 2006 when Vincentius contacted him by phone and email when he fled to Singapore. Initially Vincentius’ intention was to take his own life or turn himself in to the Singaporean police, but before doing that he wanted to hand over data related to the manipulation of taxes by Asian Agri. With the help of Tempo, he eventually returned to Indonesia and reported this case to the Corruption Eradication Commission.

From November 2006, while covering and writing up this case, Dharmasaputra received threats and was intimidated. The intimidation included the police tapping text messages on his cell phone for five months (March – July 2007). Based on these text messages, the police investigated Dharmasaputra on suspicion of being behind Vincent’s crime. The police halted their investigation into Dharmasaputra after the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the World Press Freedom Committee sent a letter which protested the police action against him.

The Author

Metta Dharmasaputra is an investigative journalist and writer who specialises in economic and business issues. He is a co-founder and Executive Director of Katadata, a Jakarta based business research and publishing company established in 2012.  Previously he worked at Tempo Media Group in many positions, such as Executive Editor of Koran Tempo Daily Newspaper and Managing Editor of Tempo Magazine, the Indonesia’s biggest news weekly magazine.

Metta was given the prestigious Udin Award 2008 by the Alliance of Independent Journalist (AJI) for investigative reporting of Asian Agri’s case and Journalist of The Year Award given by Indonesian Journalist Association of Reformation, 2007. In 2008, he was selected to participate in Jefferson Fellowship for 12 journalist from Asia-Pacific held by East-West Center, Hawaii, United States.

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