RI may press Singapore on asset repatriation, Timor Leste

Indonesia is set to kick off another round of high-ranking diplomatic talks with Singapore on issues deemed contentious in the bilateral ties of the two neighboring countries.

President Susilo Bambang Yudho-yono is slated to host Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the second annual leaders’ retreat held at the Bogor Presidential Palace in West Java on Tuesday. The first retreat was held in Singapore in 2010.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said that among the top agendas to be negotiated was Indonesia’s wish for Singapore to support Indonesia’s anti-corruption drive.

“When it comes to Indonesia-Singapore ties, talks about cooperation in the legal sector, such as extradition and mutual legal assistance for asset recovery, have always been brought up. This is important because it is about the interests of both countries,” Marty said on Friday at the Presidential Palace.

While it is unlikely that any progress will be made toward achieving the extradition treaty that Indonesia longs for with Singapore, principally so that Indonesian corruption suspects can no longer flee to Singapore to escape justice, a source at the Palace said that Indonesia would instead pursue arrangements for the forfeiture of proceeds of crimes, particularly from corruption.

Indonesia, listed as one of the world’s most corrupt nations, has not been able to persuade Singapore to agree to help it retrieve the billions of dollars of state money allegedly stashed in the city state by Indonesian criminals.

Observers and activists have dubbed Singapore as a safe haven for Indonesian corruption money.

A prime example is graft convict Gayus H. Tambunan, a former tax official who allegedly deposited large amounts of money in Singapore before he was arrested in 2010.

Graft defendant and former Democratic Party treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin also reportedly keeps his allegedly ill-gotten assets in Singapore.

University of Indonesia international law expert Hikmahanto Juwana said he would welcome any effort by the Indonesian government to push for a deal on a bilateral asset recovery mechanism, although he acknowledged that it would not be easy because there was so much money in Singapore that originated in Indonesia.

A 2007 report by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini stated that one third of Singapore’s high net-worth investors (those with net financial assets of more than US$1 million) were of Indonesian origin. The report also said 18,000 Indonesians had total assets of $87 billion there.

“Yudhoyono must be able to assure his Singaporean counterpart that, by signing such a treaty, the country would no longer be perceived as a state run by illicit funds,” Hikmahanto said.

Another priority in the meeting is Indonesia’s attempt to convince Singapore to accept the ASEAN membership of Timor Leste.

“There have actually been political statements from leaders in the region to welcome Timor Leste’s bid to join ASEAN. Issues that are currently being discussed at the ministerial level concern the mechanism,” Marty said.

On Wednesday, Marty met with Singapore’s Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam to discuss the preparation for the upcoming meeting.

Marty said that he and his counterpart Shanmugam had agreed that the Bogor meeting would also focus on boosting substantial bilateral partnerships in the sectors of economy, trade and investment.

“Part of the upcoming meeting will also be used to continue negotiations on border affairs. Issues concerning regional and global matters will also be discussed too,” Marty said.

“The two nation leaders will first review the development of their relationship after the first meeting in 2010,” he added.

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