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Vincentius Amin Sutanto: I am not a repeat offender

THE West Jakarta District Court sentenced Vincentius Amin Sutanto to be jailed at Salemba Prison on August 9. The panel of judges, led by Sutarto K.S. declared Vincent, found the former financial controller of the Asian Agri Group (AAG), a subsidiary of the Raja Garuda Mas (RGM) group, guilty of money laundering and forgery.

Vincent tried to steal US$3.1 million belonging to PT Asian Agri Oil & Fats in Singapore by forging the signature of the company’s executives. The crime was exposed and Vincent asked his boss, Sukanto Tanoto, CEO of RGM, that he be forgiven. Failing to do so, the Singkawang-born Vincent, 44, fled to Singapore.

But he was not happy being on the run, so Vincent headed home to Indonesia. As a financial controller, Vincent was well aware of the accounting tricks practiced by the company he worked for to avoid paying the necessary taxes. This fact, along with a pile of documents and other evidence, he submitted to the police and the Corruption Eradication Committee (KPK), when he gave himself up on December 14, 2006. The loss incurred by the state as a result of this tax evasion was estimated to have been Rp800 billion.

The Tax Office finally came to action and a number of AGG executives were questioned. Even so, the police continued to look into the theft and forgery case by Vincent. Later on, he was also found guilty of violating the Law on Money Laundering, and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment, one year less than what the prosecutor demanded.

To Vincent, coming home, being tried in court and sitting inside his K-26 cell in Salemba penitentiary, was a risk he had to face. “I must be accountable for my actions,” he said, adding that he wanted to be tried quickly. He now worries about his family’s safety, asking them not to visit him in his prison cell. His heart cries when his son asks when he will be coming home. “I tell him, Father will come home soon, although I don’t know when,” he said.

Vincent also rejected any reports of other people involved in his crime. “I did it all myself,” said Vincent’s attorney, Petrus Balla Patyona, speaking for Vincent to Tempo. Vincent himself said the same thing, that he acted alone in trying to steal the money. He gave a longer admission on Tuesday last week to Tempo reporter Abdul Manan, at the Salemba jail.

The judge sentenced you to 11 years in prison because of money laundering and forgery. You are now appealing. Why?

I am protesting against the money laundering verdict. According to my lawyer, my colleagues, the KPK and analysts who know about the subject, what I did was not money laundering. That was just plain stealing. I don’t know why I got hit with violating that law. Throughout the trial, there was never any question that led in that direction. The court acknowledged the money belonged to the company. There was no intent on tax evasion or anything else. Money laundering is when the money is the result of committing crimes.

So, you must prove first where that money originated?

Yes. Crime has its definitions. Secondly, I tried to remove my tracks by moving the money from one account to another. This was done only once. So how come I got hit with money laundering? If this is justified by law, those who commit theft and keep their money in the bank, can be liable also for money laundering. Is this the case?

You suspect something behind this verdict?

I’m sure there are people who want to bring me down. Their motive could be revenge or whatever. After all, I exposed the AGG case. Someone must not be too happy.

You mean in connection with your report to the KPK on the company’s tax evasion, which is now being handled by the Directorate General of Taxes?

Yes. I was also threatened against leaving the country again.

Who threatened?

There are people

When was the threat conveyed? In what manner?

By telephone when I was in court being tried.

Did you think it would all end up this way?

I did think about it, which is why I begged for forgiveness. I was afraid of the possibility of violence, including the loss of my life. That’s why I fled to Singapore.

Did you ever think of spending 11 years in jail?

I did. I saw the signs right from the start, from the police investigation, from the questions they asked, that it was leading to money laundering. It was the same thing when my friend Hendri Susilo, was questioned. When he was asked about opening a new account the police asked whether it was to launder money. Pak Petrus was clear in his defense. The crime of money laundering must be proven whether the money originated from a crime. This was not the case.

How about the charges of forgery?

I can accept that.

You are also a witness in the tax evasion case by AGG. How many times have you testified?

About 10 times. The Tax Office sent three or four people to question me, for about three to five hours at a time.

What did they get? On how the tax evasion was done?

Yes, correct. The team investigating this case is from the Tax Office, not the KPK. They are really looking into how the original amount reported does not tally with reality.

Where was the investigation by the Tax people heading?

They were looking at getting the money they were supposed to get from AAG. The amount is what has been written by the media, about Rp800 billion.

What do you expect from the Tax people after having blown the whistle on the company?

I will leave it entirely to the tax authorities. I have no other interest. I am only a witness.

Do you think you should be getting some protection?

I hope so. It all depends on the government’s attitude on the case.

Have you received threats while in prison?

Not directly. Not physical threats, I hope. By telephone, often.

What kind of protection do you think you need?

First, legal protection. I shouldn’t be getting hit with the crime of money laundering. That’s not right. Secondly, protection from physical threat. I hope nothing will happen to me when I get out, or if I make an appeal and the judges decide to give 15 years instead. That would be the same as serving a life sentence.

You have been charged with money laundering. So that means you have not been getting proper legal defense.

I will not comment on that. I leave that to fate. In other countries, there is a witness protection program. For me, the least I am asking is legal protection. I am not asking to be released. What was proven was forgery. The maximum penalty for this is six months. In practice, between eight months to a year. Besides, this is my first case. I am not a repeat offender who commits crimes again and again.

Tempo Magazine, No. 52/VII/August 28 - Sept 03, 2007

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