Jakarta brings home Samadikun Hartono, wanted for financial scandals in the 1990s

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – After 13 years, Indonesia – with Chinese cooperation – nabbed one of the key players in the scandals that plunged the country into financial turmoil in the late 1990s, at the time of the crisis of the “Asian Tigers”.

After spending years in various Asian nations enjoying his wealth, Samadikun Hartono, Indonesia’s Most Wanted financial crook, is now back home. Five different passports with different identities did not save him from the law.

Hartono headed the now defunct, family-controlled Modern Bank, once one of Indonesia’s top financial institutions.

When a financial storm hit South Asia, starting in Thailand and moving on to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, many private banks felt the squeeze.

As national currencies devalued against the US dollar, due to financial speculation, heavy private debts by banks and businesses led to capital flight. Hartono’s Modern Bank was one of the most affected.

The Indonesian government adopted a plan to help the financial system to counter the effects of devaluation. However, some top financial players, like Samadikun Hartono, took the money and fled abroad to enjoy their ill-gotten booty at taxpayers’ expense.

The long reign of President Suharto (1967-1998) was another casualty of the financial crisis and subsequent scandals.

Hartono fled (with the money) just before police could execute a court-ordered arrest warrant. However, after 13 years in exile, moving between Singapore and other countries of the region, he was caught in Shanghai, where he had gone for the Formula One Grand Prix.

Before he could escape again, Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency (Badan Intelijen Negara, BIN) was able to get to him.

For some observers, the BIN could not have reached its goal without Chinese help. Some suggest a swap for Chinese Uighurs in Indonesia accused of terrorism in China.

BIN’s current chief, former Jakarta Governor Bin Sutiyoso dismissed the claim, saying that there was no quid prop quo with Beijing.

Samadikun Hartono’s capture is part of a crackdown against crime and corruption pursued by Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who centred his election campaign on fighting graft.

From the very start of his mandate, he has relentlessly gone after financial crimes, past and present, including those dating back to the scandals of the 1990s.

At present, several prominent figures are still on the run; however, Jokowi can claim success whereas his immediate predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004-2014), repeatedly failed.

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