When former house speaker Setya Novanto was sentenced to 15 years for corruption in April of last year, it was hailed as a major victory in Indonesia’s war on graft. But Novanto’s time in jail has also been exemplative of how bad the corruption within Indonesia’s prison system still is. After investigators found he had bribed his way into a “luxury” prison cell shortly after his sentence started, officials promised major reforms, but just last Friday Novanto was photographed walking around freely with his wife at a shopping center in Bandung.
Acting quickly to contain the scandal, the Ministry of Law and Human Rights (Kemenkumham) transferred Novanto from Bandung’s Sukamiskin prison to the Gunung Sindur maximum security prison — home to convicted terrorists and drug dealers — in Bogor that very same day.
“So because this was a serious violation, I sent him to [Gunung Sindur] first, so he would learn his lesson,” said the Head of Kemenkumham in West Java, Liberti Sitinjak, on Sunday as quoted by Detik.
According to officials, Setya had received permission to leave Sukamiskin on Wednesday to get a medical examination at nearby Santosa Hospital in Bandung, accompanied by two prison officers. Doctors at the hospital recommended he be immediately hospitalized for treatment.
After receiving treatment and undergoing observation, the hospital cleared Novanto to leave on Friday at around 2pm. According to prison officials, the officers guarding the former House speaker allowed Novanto to go to a different floor of the hospital to take care of payment and administrative matters with his family. When Novanto did not return after 10 minutes, the officers went to go look for him but could not find him. They conducted a search but couldn’t find him until he supposedly returned to the hospital of his own accord around 6pm.
Soon after, the photos of Novanto at the shopping center started to spread on social media, but prison officials insist that Novanto was going to be severely punished even before the photos got out. The guards assigned to watching him are also being investigated for possible wrongdoing.
Novanto is bound to face much stricter security and far harsher conditions at Gunung Sindur than Sukamiskin, a prison most notorious for the luxurious facilities it allowed wealthy corruption convicts to enjoy. During a raid by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) on Sukamiskin in July 2018, Novanto was one of many inmates found to be living in “cells” that looked more like hotel rooms, complete with amenities including tasteful furniture sets, refrigerators, AC, flat screen TVs, private bathrooms and showers.
Despite Novanto’s severe downgrade in accommodations, some activists are demanding that Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly resign over the scandal and his emblematic failure to clean up corruption endemic to Indonesia’s prison system.
Novanto was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being found guilty in a huge graft case involving the country’s electronic ID card program. He was detained by the KPK after faking a car accident and injuries in an attempt to avoid arrest.