Graft In High Places

Corruption and scams are not professional choices of the pretty girls who did not go very far with their education. There are also of those who specialises in the law of their land

Two days ago, an incarcerated woman in one of Indonesia’s most followed criminal cases was released from the notoriously crowded Tangerang penitentiary, near the capital Jakarta. Just one year ago, a fire broke out in the 50-year-old prison complex, killing 41 inmates. According to news reports, 122 stayed in the worst hit block, built for 40. Yesterday, one of the country’s most famous convicts was released from the jailhouse that survived the inferno. But Pinangki Sirna Malasari did not walk out quite a free woman; she was placed on parole. The conditional release before the end of her 10-year sentence imposed last year and then curiously reduced to four, however, angered many Indonesians who saw this revised ruling favouring the rich. And, ironically, someone who knows the law deeply well. Ms Malasari was a state prosecutor; she was convicted for taking a bribe from a wanted man who had absconded.

Ms Malasari’s walking away from jail attracted attention to the judge’s reasons for her early release: the guilty’s gender. As the Indonesian newspaper and magazine Tempo reported, “the panel of judges at the appellate level considered that the 10-year prison sentence was too heavy for Pinangki. The judges also assessed that Pinangki was a mother of a 4-year-old who deserved to be given the opportunity to raise her child.” That this could be considered in court brought to mind the argument of the recently sentenced Rosmah Mansor (also ten years, for the moment) who, hoping for leniency, told the judge at her sentencing that she was a “woman taking over a man’s role in the house” (her husband Najib Razak was in jail). Motherly and spousal obligations, it now appears, can be factored in pleas and appeals. Last month, on the day Indonesians celebrated Hari Kemerdekaan (Independence day), Ms Malasari received remission of a three-month sentence cut, which allowed her to walk through the prison gates yesterday.

Pinangki Sirna Malasari in beauty influencer mode. Photo: Facebook

Pinangki Sirna Malasari, 41, once headed the ‘Sub-Section of Monitoring and Evaluation II’ at the Planning Bureau of the Deputy Attorney General for the Development of the Attorney General’s Office in Jakarta. Fame came to her relatively early, as she was considered “the youngest high-ranking officials of the Attorney General’s Office”, where she was employed since 2015. In her LinkedIn profile, she touted herself as an “experienced attorney and lecturer with a demonstrated history of working in the law enforcement industry. Skilled in criminal law, arbitration, legal document preparation, contract law, legal writing, and corporate law. Strong education, with a Doctor of Law from Padjadjaran University”, an institution located in Bandung, West Java. Despite the impressive education and a seemingly sterling career, the “beautiful prosecutor”, as the local media described her, was not able to resist the very rapacious lust, also known as greed.

In 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Indonesia hard, Jakarta’s anti-corruption court found Ms Malasari guilty of accepting a first payment of US$500,000 in a bribe that reportedly amounted to US$1 million from Djoko Tjandra (aka Joko Soegiarto Tjandra or Chan Kok Hin [曾国辉]), an immensely wealthy and influential businessman on the run for 11 years from a jail sentence of two years for corruption. Mr Tjandra famously fled Indonesia to Papua New Guinea just a day before the supreme court was to present its verdict. Somehow, he was able to receive a passport (according to rumours, there was more than one) in the small Oceanian country. With travel documents in hand, he moved to Malaysia and hid in sprawling Kuala Lumpur, where he later met Ms Malasari and offered her a get-richer opportunity. The money was to buy her assistance in securing an acquittal from the Indonesian supreme court. But she would not be the only one caught in Mr Tjandra’s grand scheme: There were other agents of the law too, including a police inspector by the name of Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte, unbelievable but true. The wealthy fugitive was desperate to return home and to do so as a guiltless man.

Pinangki Sirna Malasari when she was a state prosecutor. Photo: Istimewa

With the money in her grasp, the prosecutor was said to be able to indulge her consumptive self, splurging on a sports utility vehicle, the BMW X5; cosmetic surgery (not her first) in the US; and, while she was there, fancy accommodation, reportedly in Trump Tower. Even before this, Ms Malasari was known for her “luxury lifestyle” although she was subsisting on a civil service salary. As The Jakarta Post noted of her financial moves after receiving the bribe, “the total sum of her suspicious transactions (including those with banks and money changers) grossly exceeded the combined monthly salaries of Rp 29 million (about S$2.728) that Pinangki and her police officer husband earned”. Her spouse (of her second marriage) Napitupulu Yogi Yusuf revealed during her trial that she led a ”glamourous life” long before they met.

Looking at her social media posts and photos of her in society magazines, one would not have guessed that Ms Malasari was “working in the law enforcement industry”, as she wrote in LinkedIn. With an attractive visage repeatedly fine-tuned by cosmetic procedures, she often projected herself with the élan of a beauty influencer. Indonesians would recognise her hair cascading past her shoulders, her big bright eyes beaming from under carefully-shaped brows and above pronounced cheeks that peaked aloft a chin so pointy Xia Xue would gleefully approve. The value of the bribe must, therefore, have been truly appealing as it would come in handy when Ms Malasari considered her next facial refinement. This is no speculation. In court, her sister claimed that she accompanied her sibling to the US for “nose surgery” and to “check her breast”. And there was a total of three visits. In one Instagram post, Ms Malasari shared a selfie, shot in a spacious apartment with the view of Central Park behind her.

Relaxing in Central Park, New York. Photo: Instagram

Pinangki Sirna Malasari was born in 1981 in Yogyakarta, a bustling city in the south-central Java that is the only one in Indonesia still ruled by a monarchy (it is still considered a sultanate). Scant information emerged about her family, her childhood, or her youth. In court during her trial, she said she was raised in the city of her birth. What her formative years were like, she did not say, but that was a period, as she described, of “very simple family life”, which could be taken to mean that the household was not financially blessed. She claimed that “at that time, (she) couldn’t even afford college”. But universities (three of them) she did attend—opportunities made repeatedly possible by “the kindness and generosity” of a much older man—the first of two Djokos in her life—Djoko Budiarjo (now deceased), also a prosecutor at that time. The account of her backstory, however, appeared to have been simplified.

According to a 2020 report by the Indonesian news site Grid, Mr Budiarjo met her when he was the prosecutor for a case that involved a pubescent Ms Malasari “caught with drugs” in high school. What came out of that is not known. It is believed that throughout her years in university, he “financed her”. Mr Budiarjo’s nephew Vanda Kusumaningrum told the YouTube news channel Hersubeno Point that “at that time, after college, while in Bogor (a Javanese city 416 kilometres from Yogyakarta), she lived at my uncle’s house”. She continued to reside with him, from whom she would continue to receive financial support for her education, first at Ibn Khaldun University Bogor and then, for her masters degree in business law at University of Indonesia, considered one of the most prestigious tertiary institutions in the country. As Mr Kusumaningrum elaborated, after her second degree, “she asked my uncle to marry her”. But there was a problem: Mr Budiarjo was married.

Ms Malasari conservatively dressed in court. Photo: Dos Antara

She eventually marry him despite a stunning 41 years age difference between them. It is not known if she had the approval of her parents. According to his nephew, Mr Budiarjo left his wife to accede to the younger woman’s request. “In the end, my uncle had to divorce my aunt,” Mr Kusumaningrum said. After tying the knot in 2007, Ms Malasari did not choose domestic life. She wanted to further her studies. Her husband’s family believed that the marriage allowed her to continue her higher education. They came to that suspicion because, according to Mr Kusumaningrum, “during her marriage, Pinangki never took care of her husband, even when he was sick”. The old man apparently had “two prostrate surgeries”. It is not known if he eventually died from illness of the prostrate.

However, Ms Malasari narrated quite a blander story. In court, she said—avoiding insights into her married life—that she was encouraged by her husband to study and, later, to apply for a post in the attorney’s office. She was accepted, and in 2007 was appointed as prosecutor. A year later, she continued with doctoral education in Padjadjaran University in West Java. Apart from her official duties at the attorney’s office, Ms Malasari lectured at various universities. After Mr Budiarjo married her, he retired from his job as a prosecutor, while his wife’s career blossomed. Whether on official duty or as a lecturer, Ms Malasari was noted for her looks. Her nephew-in-law suggested that because of her attractiveness, she often drew male attention, and he claimed that “she seemed to like meeting other men”.

Pinangki Sirna Malasari (second from right) on the day of her release from prison. Photo: VOI

Throughout her trial, Ms Malasari adopted severely conservative attire, complete with the jilbab (here, we know it as the hijab) and, to the surprise and curiosity of those entranced by her case, gloves—in black, no less. This concealment contrasted dramatically with what she wore before her appearances in court. In Indonesia, female head-covering is entirely optional; it is not obligatory. Although Ms Malasari is not known to wear overtly sexy clothes, she isn’t opposed to revealing her neck, her arms, and definitely her hands. Her decision to conceal parts of the body a Muslim woman must not show prompted Netizens to decry that she was merely “gaining sympathy”. It was such an issue that the attorney general declared that those who are not usually seen in “religious clothing” but appear in court looking pious would be “barred”. Ms Malasari’s piety was indeed questioned when, she left the prison yesterday without even a scarf. Her head and wiry hair were totally uncovered. Some observers of the case, however, said that the public was more interested in her clothing than her corrupt ways.

But, perhaps, more than what she wore in court and did not outside is the shocking, yet not—for many Indonesians—surprising reduction of Pinangki Sirna Malasari’s jail term, which an op-ed in The Jakarta Post called “discount”. Their advice to would-be convicts charged with graft: “Do not run away after your conviction. Just serve it, and then you should learn from the experiences of other corruption convicts on how to get freedom much earlier than you should”. Could this case foretell the outcome of Rosmah Mansor’s jail term, also 10 years? As her husband seeks royal pardon, would she choose the same option? As the “First Lady of Malaysia”, she is likely better blessed with privileges than a mere state prosecutor. And she’ll want to enjoy them.

Illustration: Just So

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