Mafia Hukum How It Works

Mafia Hukum - How It Works


The roots of the Mafia Hukum lie in the extra-legal manipulations of institutions during the Suharto era. But the devolution of power from the center to the provinces, counties (kabupaten), and cities in the Reform era strengthened the Mafia Hukum further by opening up new opportunities.



In the view of some observers, the devolution of authority from Jakarta to the peripheral institutions after the fall of Suharto in 1998 was prompted in large part by fear of a break up of the nation if Jakarta continued to hold too tightly to power without the authority of a dictatorship to back it up.

But fearful of strengthening the provincial governments to the point which might allow them to challenge Jakarta, the central government chose in many cases to distribute power directly to the kabupaten and cities. The product has been a chaotic proliferation of semi-autonomous power centers.

And as a result, the Mafia Hukum is not a single nation-wide institution. The central exploitative dictatorship is gone; in its place now are hundreds of Law Mafias informally organized around local economies.



Although in theory the national government in Jakarta unites the hundreds of distinct peoples and languages in the nation, in fact most Indonesians also identify more strongly with their own ethnic group; Jakarta had good reason to fear directly strengthening the authority of provincial governments.

“We versus them” ethnic solidarity is particularly useful when it is also profitable—as when it justifies special rights over local economies.

Every region has local economic opportunities to exploit. Some are rich in natural resources including logging, fishing, mining, and agriculture. Manufacturing and control of customs are lucrative in the major port cities. Real estate development can lead to windfall profits in booming markets. And of course Bali, with its easy flow of money from dewy-eyed foreign tourists, is probably the richest of all.

The Law Mafias work by sponsoring and protecting illegal activities, issuing false documents and certificates, sidetracking investigations, and, if necessary, covering up with dishonest judicial decisions. They make money from percentages of the proceeds. The more illegal activity, the more money they make. Law Mafias don't just take advantage of illegal activities, they promote them.

Attempts by anti-corruption commissions centered in Jakarta to break up regional Law Mafias can be met with tremendous resistance because they can be complicated by issues of ethnicity as well as the vast amounts of money involved.



The Law Mafias are not run by “Godfathers.” They are informal groupings who know one another and can work together to accomplish their ends. A customs official who ordinarily issues false shipping receipts, for instance, will know several police officers he can call if necessary. A lawyer will have “relationships” with several judges.

If things really get out of hand—if, for example, investigators from Jakarta begin to probe too hard—someone will know someone who can call someone to smooth things out.


How does the Mafia Hukum affect you

Whether you are Indonesian or expatriate, your partner or landowner or spouse doesn’t need to invent ways to cheat you. They might never consider cheating you on their own. But there will always be a parade of lawyers, government officials, and judges ready to tempt them with good ideas if they begin to feel resentful after your last fight.

Over time, relationships which started off well can begin to deteriorate as one party thinks more about the benefits to be gained by manipulating the law rather than working for compromise.

This is the door for the Mafia Hukum to enter. Things then go bad very quickly.