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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        4  February 2011

Fight against graft in Indonesia

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The guilty verdict for former tax director Bahasyim Assifie has set a new precedent in the country's justice system because for the first time judges applied the legal principle of reverse burden of proof, analysts said on Thursday.

The South Jakarta District Court on Wednesday sentenced Bahasyim to 10 years in jail for money-laundering and corruption with the panel of judges arguing that he had failed to prove his Rp 66 billion ($7.3 million) had come from legitimate sources. They also ordered the seizure of the money.

"The verdict can be a model for other judges when they deal with a similar case in the future," said Hifdzil Alim, a researcher with Gadjah Mada University's Center for Anti-Corruption Studies (Pukat). Hifdzil said the principle could also be applied against high-ranking police officers who have been reported to possess enormous bank accounts.

However, since the principle of shifting the burden of proof to the defendant was not recognized by the country's Criminal Code, Hifdzil said it fell on the House of Representatives to issue a related law.

"We certainly need a much broader application of the principle, because in graft and money-laundering cases, prosecutors usually find it very difficult to present evidence after the ill-gotten money was dispersed or invested in many places," Hifdzil said.

Danang Widoyoko, chairman of Indonesia Corruption Watch, praised the judges for making "a giant step."

"The judges finally made the much-awaited breakthrough in our fight against corruption.

Unlike many other graft trials, where the panel dutifully followed what was mentioned by the indictment, the judges in the Bahasyim case pioneered the reversal burden of proof," Danang said.

"Believe me, if our courts use the conventional approach, the antigraft campaign will never bring satisfactory results."

Bahasyim, 58, had earlier presented documents to prove he invested money in the Philippines and China and ran several businesses at home, but presiding judge Didik Setyo Handono dismissed the written statements by his foreign business partners as "one-sided and prepared only after the prosecution began."

Bahaysim claimed he could earn $20,000-$30,000 per month from his investments, but the statement was unsupported.

His attorney, Otto Cornelis Kaligis, accused the judges of having been influenced by public anger.

"It's the first time the principle is applied. But what can I do? [The judges] have been stirred by public opinion," Otto said.

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