Three-Year Saga of Asian Agri Tax Probe to Conclude in Two Weeks, AGO Says
A protracted investigation into a major tax evasion case involving leading palm oil producer Asian Agri appears set to conclude within the next 14 days, with a top official saying on Wednesday that four key suspects would be brought to court soon.
“We held a joint examination [with the tax office] into the case earlier today to find what went wrong with our handling of the Asian Agri case, which has moved back and forth without any settlement,” Deputy Attorney General Darmono said.
Asian Agri, a company owned by the country’s third-richest man, Soekanto Tanoto, allegedly misstated company revenues in 2002-05. The case started in August 2007.
“Now we have found the obstacle that we need to complete the charging documents against four suspects and we agreed to conclude within 14 days, starting from now,” Darmono said. He added that the probe was conducted at the office of the presidential Judicial Mafia Eradication Task Force.
Prosecutors and tax officials have questioned at least 49 witnesses in the case, but their testimonies were note focused on any particular suspect.
“Their testimonies were general and provided no ground to prove the role of any particular suspect. So we will ask all the witnesses to focus on which suspect they are testifying against,” Darmono said. “The conclusion is that investigators must conclude the case in 14 days, involving four key suspects.”
Darmono did not cite any names but confirmed that one of them was former Asian Agri employee Vincentius Amin Sutanto, who is serving an 11-year prison term meted out by the West Jakarta District Court in August 2007 for stealing $3.1 million of Asian Agri funds and for laundering money.
Though the examination was held at the task force office, Darmono dismissed allegations that intervention by case brokers had delayed the case.
“We met to find the real obstacles. If they concern mainly technical issues, then let’s tackle the technical problems. If it is about power, let’s use the power approach to face it,” said Darmono, who is also a member of the task force.
The AGO has repeatedly rejected the names of suspects presented by the tax office, which targeted Willihar Tamba, the director of PT Dasa Anugerah Sejati, a subsidiary of Asian Agri, in 2002-04, and Goh Bun Sen, who succeeded him in 2005. Prosecutors believed the two should have been named as witnesses instead of suspects.
Prosecutors have indicated they want to implicate Vincentius and Suwir Laut, who served as Asian Agri’s financial controller and tax manager, respectively, in the wake of the scandal.