In a country that looks increasingly lawless, Mulya Lubis is a driving force in Indonesia's fight for legal reform. When not busy defending besieged multinationals in Jakarta's courts, he's advising the government on how to force 38 recalcitrant Suharto cronies to repay $11.3 billion in debt to the state.
Originally, Lubis foresaw a career as a human rights lawyer, but that wasn't going to fly in Suharto's Indonesia. So Lubis exiled himself to the U.S., where he earned law degrees at both Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley. In 1991, with talk of political reform in the air, he returned to Jakarta and set up Lubis, Santosa & Maulana Law Offices. Suharto's ouster in 1998 unleashed a tidal wave of change, but Lubis, 52, says "the main theme is the same: how to strengthen rule of law."
Lubis is setting an important example for Indonesian lawyers. Shunning the practice of bribing judges to win cases, he often settles out of court, as he did recently for U.S. food giant Cargill, which had been accused of violating customs rules. For Lubis, defending multinationals is the best way to clean up Indonesian jurisprudence. Big foreign firms stick to their guns, refuse to pay bribes, and seek publicity for their cases. Besides Cargill, Lubis has defended such big corporate names as Manulife Financial Corp. and AT&T Wireless, both of which are fighting attempts by local partners or officials to put them out of business.
Lubis is also emerging as a driving force for financial reform. In June, in his capacity as a government adviser, he called for two of the nation's biggest debtors, Anthony Salim and Syamsul Nursalim, to be termed officially "uncooperative." That would allow the state to seize their personal assets and savings. Says an Indonesian banker: "Mulya Lubis is a very brave man." Indeed, not many people are willing to take on the cronies. For Lubis, it's all about fighting for principle. "Hopefully," he says, "others will listen." Only then will Indonesia turn the corner.