One of the more “unique” features of the Indonesian legal system is that appeals to higher court can not only lead to sentences being overturned but also to sentences being increased, a power which judges here are certainly not shy about using. That can make appealing a verdict a very dangerous gamble, as one of Indonesia’s most infamous doctors recently experienced.
In July, the Jakarta Corruption Court (Tipikor) sentenced Dr. Bimanesh Sutarjo to three years in prison for his role in conspiring with former house speaker Setya Novanto to help the now-imprisoned politician fake a car accident injury in an attempt to prevent his questioning and arrest by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in November 2017.
Dr. Bimanesh appealed the verdict to the Jakarta High Court in an attempt to get his sentence overturned, but instead the panel of judges decided to add an extra year to his sentence. The decision was rendered on Oct. 25 and made publicly recently.
The panel of judges called the doctor’s actions despicable and said they tarnished the image and authority of the medical profession. For that reason, the judges chose to increase Bimanesh’s jail sentence as well as double the fee he was ordered to pay the court from IDR150 million (US$10,000) to IDR300 million.
Dr. Bimanesh’s new sentence is still lighter than the prosecutors’ demand of six years’ imprisonment in his original trial. The Tipikor court said it decided to be lenient on Bimanesh on the grounds that he did not have a criminal record prior to this case and his 38 years of devotion to the medical field.
On November 15, 2017, Setya Novanto disappeared shortly before KPK investigators went to his house to arrest him for his role in the the enormous e-KTP (electronic ID cards) graft scandal. He resurfaced the next day when his driver crashed his car into an electrical pole on the side of the road in Permata Hijau, South Jakarta (allegedly while on the way to turn himself in to the KPK, according to Setya’s original lawyer Fredrich Yunanto — who was sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in the coverup) .
Novanto was then rushed to Medika Permata Hijau Hospital after allegedly sustaining severe injuries including, in his lawyer Friedrich’s words, a bump on his head as big as a “bakpao” (Chinese steamed bun).
Dr. Bimanesh, who was named a co-conspirator in Fredrich’s obstruction of justice case, backed up the lawyer’s claims and tried to prevent KPK investigators from gaining custody of Novanto on medical grounds. However, the KPK was soon able to bring in their own independent medical examiners who confirmed that Novanto had not suffered severe injuries, allowing investigators to take custody of the politician, move him to a new medical facility and have him arrested.
Shortly after his client’s arrest, Fredrich dropped out as Novanto’s legal counsel. But that didn’t stop the KPK from arresting Fredrich in January on charges that he obstructed justice by trying to deceive investigators regarding Novanto’s health.
During the trial, a litany of witnesses testified to Fredrich and Dr. Bimanesh’s duplicity surrounding the case. One emergency room doctor said he had been instructed by both Fredrich and Bimanesh to fake medical records showing Novanto had suffered severe injuries even before the politician had been brought to the hospital. In the end it was Bimanesh, a kidney specialist, who ended up diagnosing Novanto’s car crash injuries (which obviously looked a little suspicious to investigators).
The hospital’s attending doctor at the time of the incident told the court that Fredrich had booked a VIP room at the hospital prior to Setya’s alleged accident. Two nurses testified to the fact that Novanto’s body was covered with a blanket when he entered the hospital, which was very unusual for car accident victims. They also told the court that Novanto did not appear to have any severe injuries on his face or head, contradicting Fredrich’s “bakpao” claim.
The overwhelming evidence that Fredrich and Bimanesh had conspired to try and keep Setya out of the hands of the KPK investigators was enough to convince the judges to find the lawyer guilty and earn him his seven-year sentence.
Setya Novanto was sentenced to 15 years in prison in April for his key role in embezzlement from the $440 million ID card project, with some $170 million disappearing from state coffers. The sentence was among the heaviest for corruption in the country’s history and was heralded by many activists as a major victory in Indonesia’s war against endemic corruption and culture of impunity.