Journalist says police ordered release of phone records

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Jakarta Police have acknowledged they asked state-owned phone operator PT Telkom to release the text messaging records of a Tempo magazine journalist in connection with a tax fraud case.

Journalist Metta Dharmasaputra was questioned Monday at Jakarta Police Headquarters over the case.

After emerging from questioning, he said the police admitted they ordered PT Telkom to release text messages he exchanged with Vincentius Amin Sutanto (not Santoso as reported earlier), a former employee of oil and fats producer PT Asian Agri.

"Pak Aris said this was in accordance with investigative authority," said Metta, referring to Adj. Sr. Comr. Aris Munandar, the head of the Fiscal, Monetary and Foreign Reserves Unit at the city police's Special Crimes Division.

Metta was accompanied by Toriq Hadad, S. Malela Mahargasarie and Bambang Harymurti from Tempo news group, as well as Hendrayana from the Legal Aid Institute for the Press and Independent Journalists Association secretary-general Abdul Manan.

Metta said he found it difficult to believe the police ordered the phone operator to release his text messaging records even though he was not involved in any criminal activities.

A 1999 law and government regulation on telecommunications stipulate that telecommunications providers can release records as part of investigations into special criminal activities, namely corruption, drug trafficking and terrorism.

However, the release must be officially requested by the attorney general, the National Police chief or appointed investigators.

"If this happened to me, then it could happen to about 50 million people who are PT Telkom subscribers," said Metta.

"This must be cleared up. People have to know whether there was a request from the attorney general, the National Police chief or appointed investigators (to leak the records)."

National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Sisno Adiwinoto claimed the police had the authority to order the release of the text messages.

"Investigators have the right to tap (any kind of conversations between) alleged suspects or anyone who is trying to protect them or is involved (in the crime).

"It doesn't matter whether the person is a journalist or not," he told The Jakarta Post.

Metta said he was summoned to police headquarters regarding the case of Vincentius Amin Sutanto, who is alleged to have embezzled US$3.1 million from PT Asian Agri.

"The police said Vincent did not operate by himself. There must be someone else behind him," he said.

He said he began communicating with Vincent after the former PT Asian Agri employee reported the company to the Corruption Eradication Commission for tax fraud.

"Vincent was scared after Sukanto Tanoto (PT Asian Agri owner) found out that he embezzled the company's money. He asked me for help from Singapore.

"I went there as a journalist at the order of my office. I did try to help him because he was a whistle-blower. I couldn't in good conscience not help him after I got all the information from him," he said.

Metta also said he did not understand why the police were focusing on Vincent's case instead of finishing the investigation into PT Asian Agri's tax fraud case, which allegedly caused about Rp 786 billion (US$83.62 million) in state losses.

In May, the Directorate General of Taxation at the Finance Ministry announced the company had marked up its financial transaction report and export transaction losses, which amounted at Rp 1.5 trillion and Rp 232 billion, respectively, as well as reducing sales to Rp 889 billion. (08)
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