March 13, 2023
JAKARTA – Finance Minister Sri Mulyani “promises” to work with senior minister Mahfud MD to address reports about suspicious transactions amounting to Rp 300 trillion (US$19.4 billion) within tax and customs offices.
Sri Mulyani said that she was not aware of the figure of suspicious transactions reported, highlighting that the Rp 300 trillion figure was not included among the hundreds of reports from 2009-2022 from the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK) that she had received.
“I promise that I will meet with Pak Mahfud [once I return to Jakarta] and Pak Ivan to get to the bottom of what the problem is, where it took place and who is involved,” she told reporters on the sidelines on a visit with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in Surakarta, Central Java, on Thursday
Sri Mulyani said she would investigate any possible foul play within the Finance Ministry with the help of Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud and PPATK head Ivan Yustiavandana.
The minister would be “happy” to receive any help to “cleanse” the Finance Ministry, she said, though it was important to first ensure that all parties were working together using the same data and facts.
Of the hundreds of reports submitted by the PPATK, Sri Mulyani claimed that some had been followed up throughout the years, resulting in the removal and firing of some civil servants proven guilty.
All these reports have been tracked within the ministry, but none have indicated the Rp 300 trillion supposedly misused by taxmen and customs officials, she said.
“Honestly, I have yet to see that number. I have no idea where it comes from. That’s why I will meet with Pak Mahfud and Pak Ivan soon in Jakarta,” she said. “I will ask Pak Ivan how he calculated the number and what the data look like.”
Allegations of a complex web of white-collar crimes within the Finance Ministry’s ranks surfaced after an aggravated assault case put the spotlight on mid-level tax official Rafael Alun Trisambodo.
Rafael’s vast wealth, paraded on social media, prompted an investigation by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). The PPATK later found 40 bank accounts holding a total amount worth Rp 500 billion (US$32.5 million) linked to Rafael, leading to his eventual firing.
He is likely to be the first in a flurry of tax and excise officials to be sanctioned, as Mahfud MD said that at least 460 officials are implicated in “suspicious” cash flows.
Responding to Sri Mulyani’s incognizance, PPATK head Ivan Yustiavandana said later on Thursday that the center had submitted 200 reports over 13 years on the matter and that the number would have been included in the documents.
Ivan did not disclose when exactly the reports were made but ensured that they were received by the Finance Ministry.
The KPK on the same day also told reporters that it remained unaware of the Rp 300 trillion claims, saying that such “data have yet to exist within the KPK”
Mahfud said that suspicious affluence among the Finance Ministry’s civil servants was still rampant and that Rafael’s case was by no means isolated.
At least 69 other civil servants have been flagged as having “unreasonable wealth”.
“All of this has been found [since 2009] to involve 460 [officials] within the Finance Ministry. […] These reports have not been updated or responded to. Sometimes they are given responses only when there are cases, such as in Rafael’s case,” said Mahfud via a video statement on Thursday.
The fault, Mahfud suggested, lay with a lackluster system within the ministry that did not have sufficient capacity to track or address each report as it came. As a result, reports made by the PPATK would end up piling up, mostly unaddressed within the ministry.
And for years, fixing the faulty system was not the ministry’s priority, Mahfud said, as it was too “preoccupied” with other immediate matters.
“It’s not because of Sri Mulyani. There have been four finance ministers since 2009,” Mahfud said. “I think we ought to help Sri Mulyani to solve this problem, we cannot hide anything from the people. […] Everyone knows, we cannot lie.”
While Sri Mulyani faces increasing pressure to discipline her staff, some observers have commended her commitment to stamping out graft in her ministry, which was notoriously corrupt.
Others, however, have criticized Sri Mulyani and called for her to step down or take full responsibility for the corruption.
With the scandal occurring just as the nation entered its annual tax-filing season, growing public disillusionment has fueled more investigations in search of others who appear to be enjoying wealth beyond what their public office could provide.