The nation’s antigraft community raised a collective eyebrow at an ex-graft defendant being made a judge in corruption cases in a regional court.
Ramlan Comel, the only ad hoc corruption judge on the Bandung court panel which controversially acquitted Bekasi Mayor Mochtar Mohamad on Tuesday, was a defendant in a bribery case and indeed was found guilty of corruption in 2005.
The acquittal marked the first case that the KPK, which has sent many corrupt politicians, lawmakers and officials to prison, has lost since its establishment in 2002.
While the Judicial Commission was quick to say that it would examine whether the judges violated ethics or regulations during the trial, many have expressed pessimism about the Supreme Court’s willingness to pursue judicial wrongdoing based on past experience.
A copy of a Supreme Court ruling stated that on June 29, 2005, the Pekanbaru District Court in Riau found Ramlan—who was at that time a director of oil company PT Bumi Siak Pusako—guilty of corruption and sentenced him to two years in prison after prosecutors at the Pekanbaru district attorney’s office had demanded a five year sentence.
Though Ramlan was later acquitted of all charges by the Riau High Court and the Supreme Court, there remain doubts about his credibility as a judge in corruption cases given his history.
Dian Rosita, a researcher at the Institution for the Advocacy and Study of Judicial Independence (Leip), said that Ramlan failed in 2005 in a bid to become a member of the Judicial Commission because many antigraft activists had reminded the selection committee of his track record.
In February 2010, Ramlan was among 27 new ad hoc corruption judges selected to fill the posts in local tribunals along with local career judges. In July 2011, the Supreme Court selected an additional 84 ad hoc corruption judges.
“Now he is an ad hoc corruption judge; such a troubled track record will raise questions about his performance and impartiality in delivering verdicts,” Dian said.
On top of a judge with a questionable reputation there were also questions over the system.
The Judicial Commission confirmed it had received a tip-off that Mochtar would win the case even before the Bandung court handed down its verdict.
“That is why we sent our people to monitor the Bandung verdict that day,” the commission’s mo-nitoring division chief Suparman Marzuki told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
He said that his office planned to examine the court’s controversial ruling that found Mochtar not guilty of the multiple graft charges leveled against him by prosecutors from the KPK.
“If we find indications that there were indeed ethical violations by the judges, we will summon them for examination,” he added.
Prior to the case, all graft defendants whose cases had been handled by the KPK had been jailed. Mochtar’s case was also the first KPK graft case to have been tried in a regional corruption court since the enactment of the 2009 Anticorruption Law that mandated that all local corruption cases be tried in local tribunals.
As a number of lawmakers push for the dissolution of the KPK, antigraft activists have expressed concerns that the exoneration of the Bekasi Mayor could be the beginning of KPK failures at regional levels, confirming previous fears that regional graft courts would free defendants and undermine the KPK’s credibility.