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Sentence riles graft-weary Indonesians

Associated Press / January 20, 2011

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — A tax collector caught bribing his way out of prison was sentenced to seven years behind bars for corruption yesterday, angering many in a nation fed up with graft. Prosecutors, who had demanded a much longer prison sentence, said they would appeal.

Gayus Tambunan, a low-ranking taxman who paid off officials and helped falsify documents, admitted pocketing at least $2.7 million from dozens of big companies so they would not have to pay the state.

According to one estimate, he cost the government more than $700 million in lost revenue.

But it was the alleged involvement of senior police and immigration officials, prosecutors, and judges that captured the nation’s attention.

Tambunan’s sheer audacity made him a favorite topic on social-networking sites: Authorities confirmed he had bribed his way out of jail at least 68 times since his arrest almost a year ago.

That revelation was made after he was photographed watching a tennis match on the resort island of Bali, disguised in a black wig and sunglasses. Tambunan, 31, has since been accused of paying $100,000 for false passports to go to Macau and Singapore to gamble.

The verdict was read live on all major television and radio stations.

“The defendant has been found guilty of corruption . . . and of giving false information about the amount of money he amassed,’’ Judge Albertine Ho said, giving him seven years behind bars and a fine of $30,000. She said the 20 years demanded by prosecutors was too much because Tambunan had not acted alone.

Many people believe Gayus Tambunan is a scapegoat. Nevertheless, they were furious he got off so lightly.

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