The Day When The Corrupt Indonesia Finds They’re No Match To Malaysia’s 1MDB Scandal

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Mar 12 2018
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Indonesia used to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Foreigners were advised to do themselves a favour by attaching money notes with their passports for ease of clearance at immigration counters. The corruption in Indonesia was both frightening and entertaining at the same time. And the tentacles of corruption crawled all the way from the government to the people on the street.


Expatriates would tell hilarious stories how their chauffeur or driver would prepare notes for daily bribes. During the midday rush, first time foreigners would be surprised when traffic police stopped to salute them – for not having headlights on. But for as little as 5 US dollars, the traffic cop would be more than willing to let you go, with another salute thrown in again. That was a great deal, was it not?


They’ve since improved. According to Corruption Perceptions Index 2017, Indonesia is ranked 96, less corrupt than Vietnam (rank: 107), Philippines (111) and Myanmar (rank: 130). However, when compared to Malaysia, the only country which shares its deepest and most intimate cultural roots, Indonesia is still too corrupt.

Indonesia Corruption - Rupiah

Ranked 62, Malaysia is more than 50% less corrupt than Indonesia. But most Indonesians are of the perception that their country isn’t any different from Malaysia. At worst, Malaysia and Indonesia are neck-and-neck in terms of corruption. Sure, their cheapskate traffic cops took five bucks to look the other way. But they have tons of proof that Malaysia’s corruption is as bad as theirs, if not worse.


Unlike Malaysia, at least none of Indonesian police chief had been caught by Australia stashing AUD$320,000 in Australia banks. Somehow, Indonesians could not understand why Malaysia CID director Wan Ahmad Najmuddin Mohd refuses to claim back his hard-earned money despite claiming the money were from legitimate sources.


But the biggest catch of the century for Indonesia that could easily put those Indonesian traffic cops to shame was the recent confiscation of luxury yacht “The Equainimity” on February 28 off the coast of Teluk Benoa in Bali in a joint operation between Indonesian authorities and U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Jho Low Equanimity Yacht Confiscated - Seized by Indonesia Police - US Authorities

Traditionally, both Indonesia and Malaysia had been scratching each other’s back, as what Indonesian former President Suharto and Malaysian former Prime Minister Mahathir had done. Despite his roots from Kerala, India, Mr. Mahathir shared an extremely intimate relationship with Mr. Suharto who was born to ethnic Javanese parents in a small village west of Yogyakarta.


Hence, one would expect Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, a self-proclaimed Bugis warrior, to command even closer relationship with his ancestry homeland Indonesia. After all, the Buginese are a very powerful people and they have heavily influenced the politics in the present day states of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.


Surprisingly, the Indonesian government believed that the 1MDB scandal was too big to be swept under the carpet. Not even President “Jokowi” Joko Widodo dares to scratch Prime Minister Najib’s back. In what was seen as an unprecedented case, the Indonesian authorities had chosen instead to work with the U.S. FBI – secretly behind the knowledge of Najib administration.

Jho Low Equanimity Yacht Confiscated - Jho Low and Najib Razak - FBI DOJ

Like neighbouring country Singapore, the Government of Indonesia realized that the corruption and money laundering involving 1MDB was simply too massive. The siphoning of US$4.5 billion from 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Bhd), a fund set up by Najib Razak himself in 2009, represents the largest action brought under the U.S. Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.


In actuality, very few Indonesians had heard and cared about the 1MDB scandal, until the seizure of superyacht “The Equainimity”, believed to be owned by Jho Low, the business partner of Mr. Najib. It seems that 1MDB is a tough nut to crack, refuses to die the natural death. With total circulation of 300,000 (2010), Indonesian weekly magazine “Tempo” has fired its first shot since the confiscation.


Tempo, which previously highlighted the “luxurious lifestyle” of Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor, just two days ahead of his working visit to the republic in 2015, has decided to come out with guns blazing this time. Armed with a caricature of Jho Low apparenrtly fishing on his US$250 million yacht, the magazine’s headline screams – “Pesiar Rasuah 1MDB (1MDB Corruption Yacht).”

Indonesia Tempo Magazine - 1MDB Scandal - Yacht

The clever illustration of “The Equainimity” also saw a giant vault below the yacht with two divers, presumably FBI and DOJ (U.S. Department of Justice), investigating the RM1 billion boat. The biggest punch was in the caption – “It is believed to have been purchased using corrupt money, the Malaysian ship confiscated by the police, the owner is a close associate of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.”


It’s not everyday that Indonesia could surprise its 260-million populations with a haul as huge as Indonesian Rupiah 1,376,950,000,000,000 – the value of the yacht seized and handed over to FBI. Even their most corrupted leader Suharto didn’t possess such a super boat, suggesting the US-DOJ’s investigation of US$4.5 billion being stolen is just the tip of the iceberg.


The Indonesian magazine’s latest edition (for March 12 to March 18) together with the joint-operation with the FBI to seize the yacht could be interpreted as the republic’s disgust over the Malaysian leader’s corruption and money laundering scheme. For decades, Indonesians were ashamed of Malaysians laughing at their corruption. The karma is finally here.

Najib Razak and Wife – Self-Proclaimed Bugis Warrior

Now, the Indonesians can hold their head up. Despite what the Corruption Perceptions Index 2017 says, it’s hard to argue that Malaysia under Najib regime is more corrupt than Indonesia. Perhaps now those Indonesian Buginese people understand the real meaning when Mahathir called Najib son of Razak “a Bugis pirate.”


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