ABRAHAM Samad, 45, still had that 'country boy' look when he arrived in Jakarta to take up his new job as chairman of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Evidently, he isn't into fancy words either. During a recent two-hour interaction with Tempo journalists, he spoke frankly, without beating around the bush. "I will nab them all, even my own brother if he was found guilty of corruption," said Abraham when he was asked why people at the KPK took their time in indicting suspects.
The meeting at the Tempo editorial offices took place on Thursday last week, a day before President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono swore Abraham in as the new KPK chairman for the 2011-15 term. His election has been shrouded in rumors that he had struck a deal with the legislators at the House of Representatives (DPR), considering the amazing 43 votes in his favor. Another issue that has been hounding Abraham are reports that he is close to fundamentalist Islamic groups. "I need to clarify this, especially since Tempo has branded me as such," he said, smiling.
Abraham comes from an interesting background of activism and the law. He was part of the campaign team that got the late Baharuddin Lopa elected as governor of South Sulawesi. "I became a lawyer because of him," said Abraham. But he admits that as one of the founders of Makassar Anti-Corruption Watch, he has never defended a corruption suspect in his entire legal career. He seemed genuine when he asserted he would go back to his kampung if he failed to perform during the first year. "I don't want to be seen as all talk," said Abraham. The interview was moderated by Tempo reporters Andari Karina Anom and Wahyu Muryadi. Excerpts:
Did you strike any political deals with the DPR Law Commission to win 43 out of its 56 votes?
Tempo reported that I made deals with a number of political parties to make sure I wouldn't bother them. The reports went so far as to describe where the deal was made at the Crowne Hotel, on the Friday the parliamentarians took a vote. Yet, on that very day at 11am I had just landed at the airport, and an hour later I prayed at the Cut Meutia mosque. Then I had my lunch, while the vote was being taken at 1pm. So I really don't know how such reports come up.
But did you make promises to any particular party at the DPR?
The promises I made during the due diligence process were not part of a political contract with the legislators. It is a social contract between myself and the public. So, those who have the right to call on those promises and to dismiss me are the people. The DPR is just the medium by which to convey my responsibilities towards the public. So, if there are cases involving the legislators, God willing, I will not be made a hostage.
But 43 votes?
There's a saying: when two elephants fight the mouse deer in the middle perishes. So, Golkar chose Bambang, the Democrats voted for Husein, and unexpectedly a middle group crept in and proposed Abraham Samad. So, contrary to the old saying, while two forces fought their battle, I, as the mouse deer, did not die.
Nothing in politics is by chance. What do you think those 43 people who voted for you expect from you?
Perhaps they were impressed by what I said during the due diligence process.
What did you say?
I said that if within one year I failed to solve the mega-corruption cases. I should pack up my bags and go back to my kampung. After the due diligence, the constellation at the DPR immediately changed. The Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS) gave me a score of 8.5.
You were reported as an Islamic fundamentalist who is especially close to the rightwing hardliners.
Yes, Tempo did report me as being too 'right-wing' and questioned my nationalism. I want to clarify something: I am not an Islamic fundamentalist but neither am I an Islamic liberal. I am just a Muslim following the religious law in a practical way. I attended a Catholic high school and my friends are of different faiths. My father fought in the 1945 independence war, so my background is far from that of a fundamentalist.
Yet you defended the suspected terrorist, Agus Dwikarna, in the Philippines.
Look, I was being a professional because his human rights were being violated. [Because of that] Regional Police Chief Firman Gani (ex-Jakarta Police Chief Ed.) ordered my arrest because I was seen as a member of a terrorist group. I was not defending their ideology or their faith. What I defended was the principle of human rights that was being violated.
Was that the only reason?
Just that! I would defend communists, not just terrorists, if their rights were being violated. I have never attended a Qur'an reading session organized by hardline Islamists. That report emerged because I was quite close to groups identified as being hardliners. But my relations with them are social, not ideological.
You said you would go home if you failed to resolve mega-corruption cases within a year. Is this some kind of a campaign promise?
Not at all. One year doesn't mean I will solve all cases in that period of time, but God willing, in one year's time I will solve the one big case (identifying the case but speaking off the record Ed.).
What is needed to solve those mega-corruption cases?
Goodwill. The KPK is after all, led collectively. Problems can appear any time [between them], like when a case should be upgraded from the status of questioning to an investigation. But I am determined. If there's a lot of hullabaloo, I will use my right to a dissenting opinion. This will be my accountability to the people.
How close are you to Tamsil Linrung, reportedly involved in the Budget Committee case at the DPR?
Tamsil was arrested along with Agus Dwikarna and Jamal Belfast in the Philippines. At that time he was with the Dakwah Council, not yet a politician. But our relations have not been a problem for me. Forget Tamsil, I would hang my own brother if he was found guilty.
The Bank Century case has become a hot item between PDI-P and Golkar, two big parties that enabled your election as KPK chief.
That's no advantage for me. Golkar went all-out to back BW (Bambang Widjojanto), not me. When people talk about Century, they are usually targeting Boediono and Sri Mulyani. If we want to be effective, we must [work] from the sidelines first, like the case involving the fire trucks, which at first got the regents and mayors, but later, involved someone as high as Hari Sabarno (ex-Home Affairs Minister). I cannot divulge the strategy here because it covers interrogation techniques. These are the kinds of things I will do during the consolidation phase. I don't think there will be a dissenting opinion on this because I, Pak Busyro and others have integrity and we are professionals.
So, the target of the Bank Century case is Boediono and Sri Mulyani?
We cannot say they are the main targets because that means we are politicizing cases of people in Senayan (the DPR Ed.). But we must proceed according to the Criminal Law.
What about the Nunun Nurbaetie case?
In my view, Nunun is just a door that should be broken to expose a much bigger case.
Perhaps Nunun feels safer in your hands compared to the previous KPK and that's why she got herself arrested.
In fact, the Nunun case could become more dangerous under my jurisdiction.
Right now, someone suspected of corruption, gets indicted only after he no longer holds a position. What do you intend to do about that?
If there is enough evidence, I will arrest even a minister. In fact, it's best to arrest a minister when he is still in office. We will be very different from previous KPKs. We want to be sharper and more effective.
What really upsets people is the long time it takes for the KPK to press charges and name a person a suspect.
I am one of the followers of Charles Sampford's law. Accordingly, the law is not linear, not deterministic, but fluid. Not many in Indonesia agree with this concept. If there is enough official evidence, we then indict that person. For material evidence, we will let the judge try to prove that.
What is your weakness?
I am a bit arrogant and I am unable to trust people. That's the way I am, but as part of a collective leadership, I will try to adjust.
You claim to be unafraid of threats and you are rich enough not be tempted by money. What about the temptations of women?
I am not a good-looking man, not attractive enough, maybe that's why women stay away from me. It's hard to answer that question. Maybe it's my background. My mother was only 39 and still beautiful when my father passed away and I was only 9 years old. Mother, who is now 80, has never remarried. I always look at her and stand in awe of her loyalty.
Did you have to give up any particular pastime when you became KPK chairman?
I enjoy running, and that's not very dangerous (laughing). I used to box when I was in high school, until my nose broke.
Former Attorney General Baharuddin Lopa died in office, triggering rumors he received threats because he was considered too clean. Are you ready to face such threats?
God willing, I would prefer to die fighting to eradicate corruption instead of a heart attack in bed. I am quite new in this anti-graft business. I have received threats in the past and my house and the internet kiosk (wartel) I own were attacked and destroyed. So, terror is part of my life.
How much are you worth?
I haven't really calculated, maybe about Rp5 billion. I have a huge 800-square-meter house in Makassar, built on 1,200 square meters of land, but I don't how much it's valued at today. It was a gift from my in-laws.
What about your Fortuner car?
You apparently know a lot about me. I bought that Fortuner with a loan from Panin Bank. How much installment I pay every month for it is an open book.
Place & Date of Birth: Makassar, November 27, 1966 Education: PhD in Law, Hasanuddin University, Makassar Career: l Attorney (1996-to date) - Founder & Coordinator of Anti-Corruption Committee in South Sulawesi - Chairman, Corruption Eradication Commission (2011-2015)
Issue: 17/12, December 27, 2011