Indonesia court rules police chief nominee not a graft suspect

An Indonesian court has ruled that three star general Budi Gunawan, shown here in this Jan 14, 2015, photo, should no longer be considered a graft suspect. This leaves him free to take up the job as the country's police chief. -- PHOTO
An Indonesian court has ruled that three star general Budi Gunawan, shown here in this Jan 14, 2015, photo, should no longer be considered a graft suspect. This leaves him free to take up the job as the country's police chief. -- PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - An Indonesian court ruled that President Joko Widodo's nominee for police chief should no longer be considered a graft suspect, removing any legal impediment to him taking the job.

Widodo's candidate, three star general Budi Gunawan, had filed a pre-trial motion against an investigation by the anti-corruption agency, known as the KPK.

Monday's court outcome clears the way for Widodo, known as Jokowi, to inaugurate Gunawan - who's been endorsed for the role by both parliament and Jokowi's party - even as he risks a public backlash if he proceeds. The furor around who should be police chief shows the challenges Jokowi faces in meeting campaign pledges of fighting corruption and governing free of party politics.

"This decision has put Jokowi in an even more uncomfortable spot," said Emrus Sihombing, a political communications professor at Universitas Pelita Harapan near Jakarta.

"From a legal point of view, there is no reason why BG can't be inaugurated this afternoon," he said, referring to Gunawan by his initials.

Jokowi put Gunawan's appointment on hold Jan 16 after he was named a suspect by the KPK. Jokowi said in an interview on Feb 2 that he would uphold the rule of law in regards to the case.

The appointment has led to renewed tensions between the KPK and the police, who have begun investigations against senior KPK officials, hampering the agency's operations.

Gunawan said later Jokowi had met him and "congratulated" him on the court decision without the two discussing his possible inauguration.

"The truth has been realised," he told Metro TV.

"The most important thing is that my not-guilty status has been confirmed by a permanent legal decision."

The KPK was formed in 2003 to take on high-level corruption cases. Since then it has prosecuted 72 members of parliament, six central bankers and dozens of CEOs, earning it the support of ordinary Indonesians.

Gunawan, who was the head of the career development office at the police before being nominated, made the unusual step of filing a pre-trial motion against the KPK investigation.

In his ruling, Judge Rizaldi said the KPK's probe of Gunawan was invalid because he was in an administrative position when the alleged crimes took place. The KPK is restricted to investigating state officials or law enforcers.

He also said the case against Gunawan "hadn't caused public concern" and "didn't relate to an abuse of power".

"Naming the petitioner as a suspect in a corruption investigation conducted by the KPK is not valid and doesn't have any legal grounds," said Rizaldi, the sole judge hearing the case.

KPK prevention unit deputy Johan Budi said the agency would wait to see the ruling before deciding whether to take further action.

"It needs to be read first, the full copy of the decision," he said in remarks broadcast on Metro TV. "In the near future the KPK will send a letter to the court for asking for the full copy."

The KPK as a law enforcement agency respects the legal process, he said.

The Jakarta Composite Index closed 0.9 per cent lower on concerns the court verdict heralded heightened political risk in the country.

Shinta Eka Puspasari, a political risk analyst at the Jakarta-based security company Concord Consulting, said there would be "questions over the legitimacy" of the ruling even as it cleared the way for Gunawan's inauguration.

"In doing so, Jokowi will be asserting his prerogative right to nominate and inaugurate the national police chief," she said.

"Inevitably it will impact the confidence of the public. Especially those who voted for Jokowi in the belief that he would be tough on corruption."