Ed Long

Ed Long 

Posted Monday February 10, 2014
 

The Eagle and the Lion: hunting fraudsters in Indonesia and Singapore

The Eagle and the Lion: hunting fraudsters in Indonesia and Singapore

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Southeast Asia is a region that, with a few notable exceptions, struggles with a reputation for corruption. Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines consistently rank in the worst-performing third of countries for perception of corruption. Malaysia performs better, but recent surveys reveal an impression in the business world that corporate fraud is on the rise.

As an investigator, though, does a good performance on indices such as Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) mean it’s easier to find open data on individuals with a history of fraud in your region of interest? Taking a more detailed look at two contrasting examples from the region shows it is, predictably, not that simple.

In this post we’ll compare how a search for open litigation data in Indonesia, ranked 114 in the CPI, compares to Singapore: Southeast Asia’s model nation, ranking 5th best in the index, above the UK, US and most of Western Europe.

Indonesia’s litigation information

Corruption is a high-profile political issue in Indonesia and continues to be a barrier to government efficiency, with an estimated 2.13 trillion Rupiah (US $238.6 million) lost to corruption in 2011. The state established a Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in 2002, which has had a successful rate of getting convictions, even with high-profile suspects, but is only able to investigate a small proportion of the reports they receive.

The country has a large and diverse system of courts, the majority of which have public websites and openly publish a large volume of judgment data online, though few are in English. Details may be redacted, typically to preserve the dignity of parties involved in cases such as divorce proceedings, domestic violence, indecency or adoption. The geographic diversity of the system means that it helps to know where a likely offender is likely to have been tried in order to turn up information.

As an example, a recent high-profile corruption case in the country involved the head of the tax office in Bogor, West Java: Anggrah Suryo. KPK investigators caught the official accepting a 300m Rupiah bribe in July 2012.

Sure enough, the full judgement details for the corruption case against Suryo are hosted on the website of the High Court of Bandung, the capital of West Java, as well as a related case against his accomplice Endang Dyah Lestari.

Indonesia1

Indonesia2

Indonesia3

Related evidence also comes up on the websites of Indonesia’s State Attorney, the Supreme Court verdict directory, and the site of the Corruption Eradication Commission.

Despite the poor reputation, Indonesia has a wealth of open litigation data online and a diligent investigator with a little local knowledge should be able to find case records for at least the last 5 years.

Model nation Singapore?

As mentioned above, Singapore is held up as a model nation in Asia for control of corruption, but the country does not have the same attitude towards openness of litigation information. This means an investigator may have a tougher job finding information without access to premium legal databases.

In comparison to Indonesia’s civil and religious law system, Singapore has a common law system: legal interpretations are dependent on past case law. Access to this case law, however, is not generally made available. Typically, only recent decisions and upcoming hearings are easily accessible without payment: the Supreme Court of Singapore publishes a hearing list, while a feed of their recent judgments is available for 3 months from Singapore Law Watch; a news platform run by the Singapore Academy of Law. LawNet – a paywalled service also run by the Singapore Academy of Law – also hosts three freely available caches of recent judgments, though users need to pay to conduct a comprehensive search of the available literature.

What does this mean in practice for an investigator looking for red flags on an individual in Singapore? Essentially, supporting evidence from the open web can be found only if the case is either recent or high profile.

For example Jerry Tan, a car dealer given a prison sentence for forging official documents in December 2013, throws up a hit on LawNet’s recent judgments feed. The full details of the case, including the defendant’s name and the sentence are provided; though they will likely be removed from the site by the time Tan is released and looking to do business again.

Singapore's Lawnet1

Singapore's Lawnet2

Singapore's Lawnet3

On the other hand, Ho Yen Teck, a contractor working with Singapore’s Land Authority sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2011 for his role in a massive contracting fraud does not return any results on any of the above open data sources. Because of the relatively high profile of the crime, there is sufficient media coverage to expose Ho’s history, but smaller-scale fraud cases might go unreported, making it more difficult for a compliance professional to turn up this kind of information unless they have access to premium litigation information services.

Some open litigation databases exist, of course: the Commonwealth Legal Information Institute, an aggregated database of 987 legal information sources across the Commonwealth, has a relatively large collection of Singapore case law documents from the last 10 or so years. Tellingly, though, neither of the above two cases are included in their database.

Conclusions

This comparison is instructive for due diligence investigators: although Indonesia has a poor reputation for controlling corruption, their response has been to vastly increase the availability of public litigation data, enabling independent investigators to better assess third party risk. This isn’t uncommon for countries in the region: Malaysia, also, has fairly broad access to judgement documents while Vietnamese court websites often go as far as to publish courtroom photographs of defendants in the dock.

Singapore, on the other hand, while more successful at controlling government corruption makes litigation data harder to access, which could possibly be a symptom of the common law system making legal records a more valuable resource. As a result, risk factors are likely to only be uncovered as part of formal legal procedures, or through alternative outputs such as corporate blacklists or adverse coverage in mainstream or citizen media. Both examples demonstrate the need for OSINT investigators to use tools that aggregate multiple sources and provide insight into local circumstances.

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