Jakarta. It was supposed to be a simple matter: The court sends a convicted criminal to jail, and there he stays, until his sentence ends. But for Labora Sitorus, a police officer in West Papua sentenced to 15 years in 2014 for money laundering, there seem to be many ways to avoid imprisonment, all the while flaunting his freedom in the faces of law enforcement agencies.
Labora, a low-ranking officer in a police station in the remote Raja Ampat islands of West Papua, grabbed national media headlines in 2013 after he was found to have laundered Rp 1.5 trillion ($118 million) through his personal bank accounts, apparently from his illegal logging and fuel hoarding businesses.
West Papua’s Sorong District Court sentenced him to two years in prison and fined him Rp 50 million in that same year, before the Papua High Court extended the sentence to eight years upon appeal. A further appeal, to the Supreme Court in September last year, saw the sentence stretched even further, to 15 years, with a Rp 5 billion fine.
However, in October, when a team of prosecutors came to pick him up from his temporary detention, they found that Labora had not been there for some time. In fact, since getting approval for a request to seek treatment by the penitentiary’s chief warden in March, Labora had never returned to jail.
This situation could be understood if Labora had been able to flout imprisonment by fleeing abroad, as is often the case with many Indonesian graft fugitives. But what is mind-boggling is that Labora has, in fact, never left Sorong. He has been ensconced in his home in the coastal city located near Raja Ampat, on the beak of the Bird’s Head peninsula of West Papua province, the whole time.
When several reporters interviewed him last week, Labora was in his house, located within a residential complex owned by his timber company, Rotua, which was at the center of the illegal logging case. Dozens of his employees-turned-guards stood around the complex, making sure that no one could come in.
This marked the first time Labora had been willing to speak to the press after the whole debacle had made media headlines.
Labora, 53, said he was aware he had been put in prosecutors’ list of fugitives, but added he was confused as to why they had done that. In the mean time, the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office and Justice Ministry’s Directorate General of Corrections have been passing around the blame for the fiasco.
“Let me stress that the three institutions — the police, the prosecutors and prison department — have made public lies,” Labora said, according to Kompas daily. “I’ve been at home all this time. I’m confused to as to why the prosecutors put me on their list of fugitives, when senior officials from those three institutions have been visiting me at home for silaturahmi [friendly relations].”
Labora maintained that his release was lawful due to a letter from the Sorong penitentiary authorizing it, and dismissed Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly’s statement that the letter was invalid.
“Prosecutors are yet to send me a letter that extends my imprisonment. [The penitentiary] officials themselves delivered their letter [that authorized the release] to my house. If anything is wrong with the letter, they’re the ones who should be charged for forging a document,” he said.
Labora further argued his release was lawful because the Supreme Court’s verdict was flawed. He said he was just a “pawn” in a game involving senior officials with the Papua Police and the National Police headquarters in Jakarta, although he stopped short of naming anyone.
“If I’m guilty, why do the police and prosecutors stick to persuasive means [to make me return to prison]? Logically, a fugitive must be immediately arrested or shot [if he resists arrest],” Labora said.
Still on police payroll
Adding to the strangeness of the whole issue, Labora added the police had rejected his resignation and continued to send him his monthly pay.
“I will reveal all the games behind this case,” he said, but added a condition: “I’m asking for help from the Witness and Victim Protection Agency [LPSK] and the National Commission on Human Rights [Komnas HAM] — please come here.”
Labora denied hiring his employees and local residents to shield him from the authorities, claiming he had never resisted any arrest because there had never been any attempt to do take him into custody.
Roughly 1,000 people claim to be his supporters, including Rotua employees and hundreds of local residents who on Monday staged a rally in front of the Sorong Prosecutors Office and the City Council, demanding President Joko Widodo form an independent fact-finding team to investigate allegations of the conspiracy.
In Jakarta, Attorney General H.M. Prasetyo said prosecutors would keep trying to persuade Labora to surrender.
“We still hope that [he will surrender] peacefully. If he has no good intention… then we will go with Plan B, which is asking for the police to help,” Prasetyo said. He added there was no deadline for the “persuasive approach,” although he raised allegations that Labora had “protectors.”
“At least he must be hiding behind people around him, reportedly his employees. Labora has a lot of money… he is employing people to defend him,” Prasetyo told news portal Tribunnews.com.
An official with the Sorong Prosecutors Office, Danang, similarly said there was no deadline for the “persuasive approach,” arguing that if a deadline was set, Labora would attempt to flee.
Danang said local prosecutors had actually handed over the matter to police.
“We wish we could just use repressive means, because this has been going on for too long already. But we’ve handed over the matter to police and we will see the outcome of their persuasive approach,” Danang said. “The public may think this should have been easy. But it really is difficult; the situation in the field is not like you imagine.”
Wait and see
An official with the West Papua Police indicated police would only use force to arrest Labora if requested by prosecutors, and that has not been done, he said.
The official, who asked not to be named, spoke after a closed-door meeting in Sorong on Wednesday where the issue was discussed, with West Papua Police Chief Brig. Gen. Paulus Waterpauw, Papua chief prosecutor Herman Dasilva and the Justice Ministry’s provincial representative, Agus Soekono, all in attendance.
“The meeting discussed how to put L.S. in jail,” the official told Liputan6.com. “Our office [West Papua Police] is ready, but we’re not the executors. Only if there’s an order from prosecutors can we make an arrest.”
National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Ronny F. Sompie last week announced that police, prosecutors and the corrections department were forming a joint coordination team to deal with the matter. “Currently we’re still trying to arrest Labora,” Ronny said.
Paulus, meanwhile, said he had assigned several police officers in Sorong to “communicate” with Labora, stopping short of mentioning the outcome from their efforts so far.
He denied accusations that police were purposefully stalling on arresting Labora.
“Let’s just wait and see. There are steps to take. We hope there will good developments and that Labora will surrender himself peacefully,” Paulus said.
He noted, “We could hasten the process, but victims may fall. So let’s just follow procedure.”