PNG takes in Jakarta fugitive Joko Tjandra

PNG takes in Jakarta fugitive Joko Tjandra

AN Indonesian tycoon who fled Jakarta a day before he was sentenced to jail for fraud by the Supreme Court, and who is on the Interpol wanted list, has been granted citizenship of Papua New Guinea at a secret ceremony.

The constitution and associated regulations of PNG require new citizens to be resident in the country for eight years. They also include a number of other stringent conditions, including strictly policed financial probity.

JokoTjandra, 61, was first charged with corruption in 1999, over $57 million which he allegedly received illegally via PandeLubis, who was the deputy chairman of the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency set up following the Asian financial crisis.

Pande was convicted in 2004 and jailed for four years, over his misuse of Bank Bali funds. Joko was acquitted.

But under a new chief justice, the Supreme Court granted the prosecutor’s request for a review of the case. As a result, in June 2009 former central bank governor SyahrilSabirin was jailed for two years.

Two days later, and a day before Joko was to return to court for its verdict and possible sentencing, he fled. The court this time convicted and sentenced him, also to two years’ jail, in absentia.

He was ordered in addition to repay the $57m he received over the sale of Bank Bali debt collection rights.

He flew in a private jet to PNG, where associated family members own a large conglomerate, Papindo Trading, which is an especially large retailer, owning Super Value Stores, and which has recently bid to lease 100,000ha in Central Province for a rice-growing project.

When Joko fled, Indonesian Attorney-General’s Office spokesman JasmanPandjaitan said: “We’ve asked Interpol to help us to bring Joko back to serve his sentence.”

It is believed that he has split his time since then, chiefly between Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai and PNG, travelling by private jet.

Late last year, he is understood to have been flown in a Falcon jet between Malaysia and PNG, necessitating travelling over Indonesian air space – and provoking a diplomatic incident.

The Falcon was originally owned by the PNG government when Michael Somare was prime minister, and was sold and leased back to the government after Sir Michael lost office last August.

A week ago, 11 people, from six countries including Australia, were granted PNG citizenship at a ceremony in the state function room of Parliament House.

Joko, the 12th person to be awarded the honour last week, was not present. But it is understood he received his citizenship documentation in private, before the ceremony.

The citizenship was awarded only a few days from the start of voting, on Saturday, in a tumultuous national election, when PNG is at its most distracted.

The Post-Courier newspaper asked in an editorial: “Who endorsed Joko’s application for citizenship? Is it true that Prime Minister Peter O’Neill tried to stop the presentation of the certificates?

“We have not only given refuge to an international fugitive but given him citizenship. What are our international obligations? PNG’s image is at stake.”

[SOURCE: ROWAN CALLICK, ASIA-PACIFIC EDITOR, THE AUSTRALIAN]