House Speaker quits amid Freeport scandal

Speaker Setya Novanto
Speaker Setya Novanto

He resigns just after majority of ethics council voted against him

Indonesia's embattled Speaker Setya Novanto  yesterday resigned from his post as leader of the country's House of Representatives, amid allegations of him trying to solicit kickbacks from a United States-based mining firm.

The surprise move came as a parliamentary committee was just hours away from ruling that the Golkar Party politician had flouted ethics rules when he tried to elicit billions of dollars worth in kickbacks from Freeport-McMoran's Indonesian subsidiary.

No less than 15 members of the 17-strong ethics council (MKD) hearing the case had voted against him before the proceedings were adjourned at 5.30pm yesterday.

The remaining two members were scheduled to cast their votes when the hearing resumed at 8pm but news broke on Metro TV minutes later that Mr Setya had sent his resignation letter to the MKD.

Mr Setya could not be reached for comment last night but the council confirmed just before 9pm that he had resigned "to preserve the dignity of Parliament and for the sake of public peace".

It is too early to tell if Mr Setya's resignation would have any impact on the balance of power in the House, said analysts.

Ten of the MKD members had earlier sought a "moderate sanction", which involves Mr Setya resigning from his post as House Speaker, while remaining a Member of Parliament (MP).

The seven others, most of whom from the opposition coalition that Golkar is part of, had demanded a "heavy sanction". This means Mr Setya would only know his fate after he goes before another panel comprising three members of the MKD and four community leaders.

This panel also has the power to decide if Mr Setya should also lose his seat in Parliament. But, at the same time, this would also give him a lifeline wherein he may escape sanction altogether if the panel rules in his favour.

MKD member Victor Laiskodat, who asked for a "moderate sanction", said Mr Setya must step down from the House leadership post after it was determined during the hearing that he had promised to help extend Freeport's contract in return for equity shares.

"The evidence is sufficient," said the National Democratic Party (NasDem) politician. "An MP must avoid hurting the dignity of Parliament. An MP cannot use his position to enrich himself, his family, and group."

Mr Setya is accused of attempting to secure shares worth more than US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) in Freeport's Indonesian unit in return for helping the miner extend its contract to operate in Indonesia's Papua province. He had allegedly tried to secure the kickbacks during a meeting with oil businessman Muhammad Reza Chalid and Freeport Indonesia chief Maroef Sjamsuddin.

It was at the meeting that the names of President Joko Widodo, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla and Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan were dropped by Mr Setya.

The meeting was secretly recorded by Mr Maroef and a transcript of which was presented at the ethics council hearing, which started last Monday, to determine if Mr Setya had breached ethics rules.

Attorney-General Muhammad Prasetyo yesterday welcomed the decision by the MKD to impose sanctions against Mr Setya, saying it will support the investigations by the Attorney-General's Office. "The MKD deals with issues whether Setya's actions were proper or not," he said. "We view the case from the legal aspect. So, sanction or not, we will continue (our investigation)."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2015, with the headline 'House Speaker quits amid Freeport scandal'. Print Edition | Subscribe