Indonesia's anti-graft agency battles lawmakers

Protesters outside the KPK building in Jakarta carrying placards which read: "We fight together with Novel Baswedan". Mr Novel, a veteran graft investigator, suffered serious facial injuries after he was attacked with acid on April 11. His assailants
Protesters outside the KPK building in Jakarta carrying placards which read: "We fight together with Novel Baswedan". Mr Novel, a veteran graft investigator, suffered serious facial injuries after he was attacked with acid on April 11. His assailants are still at large and Mr Novel remains hospitalised in Singapore. PHOTO: TEMPO
Mr Setya Novanto was declared a suspect on Monday night.
Mr Setya Novanto was declared a suspect on Monday night. PHOTO: REUTERS

Analysts say it must show it'll carry out duties without fear or favour in high-stakes face-off

The face-off between Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission and a committee of lawmakers building its own case against the anti-graft agency, in what appears to be a tit for tat manoeuvre, intensified this week.

This came after the commission, known by its acronym KPK, declared Speaker of Parliament Setya Novanto a suspect in its probe into a trail of kickbacks for politicians in the multi-trillion rupiah e-KTP project in 2010.

The e-KTP is a biometric electronic identity card.

It was a bold move by the KPK against the influential Golkar party chief, especially coming amid the parliamentary inquiry which started in late April to look into the commission's practices.

The establishment of the committee driving the inquiry, known as pansus, is said to be retaliation against the KPK for rejecting a demand by lawmakers to share details from its interrogation of a key witness in the e-KTP case.

Tempo magazine, in an expose of the case published on Monday, also accused the pansus of trying to undermine the KPK and eventually dissolve the agency.

News of Mr Setya being named a suspect in the scandal also broke just hours after the police - the KPK's old rival - unveiled their own anti-graft division in Jakarta. The idea for the new police unit was mooted in May by lawmakers who said efforts in tackling corruption needed to be beefed up.

 

IT WILL GET DIRTY

This is not just the KPK versus DPR, but KPK versus die-hard supporters of Setya Novanto, who will drag the whole institution through the mud.

MR MURADI, who heads Padjadjaran University's centre for political and security studies, on the KPK-DPR battle.

  • About the case

  • The graft probe revolves around the embezzlement of more than 2 trillion rupiah (S$205.5 million), or nearly half of the 5.9 trillion rupiah Parliament approved to pay for a national e-KTP project.

    KTP stands for kartu tanda penduduk, or identity card in Bahasa Indonesia.

    The biometric cards were supposed to be issued to Indonesians aged 17 and above, as part of a smart nation initiative mooted in 2009, during Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's presidency.

    Many complained that they had to wait a long time to receive their cards, and when they did, they found the quality wanting, with most cards fading or peeling easily.

    The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which started investigating the project in 2014, said the case could be the largest graft scandal in Indonesia's history.

    At least 37 high-profile Members of Parliament are said to have received millions of dollars in kickbacks from deals linked to the supply of the e-KTP.

    House Speaker and Golkar party chairman Setya Novanto is among six individuals and the third lawmaker identified as suspects.

    The others are Home Affairs Ministry officials Irman and Sugiharto, businessman Andi Agustinus, and lawmakers Markus Nari and Miryam S. Haryani.

    Yesterday, Irman and Sugiharto were sentenced to seven and five years in jail respectively after they were found guilty of graft. Irman was also fined 500 million rupiah, while Sugiharto was fined 400 million rupiah. Both men said they will appeal against the verdict.

    Mr Setya, who was declared a suspect on Monday night, has denied any wrongdoing.

    When KPK chief Agus Rahardjo was asked yesterday if more suspects would be rounded up, he said: "It is not unlikely... we are just waiting, waiting for the result of investigations (which) could provide grounds for further action."

Mr Setya, who has been a useful ally of President Joko Widodo, has denied the latest allegations and publicly challenged KPK investigators to prove his guilt.

The KPK has the support of the President, who told reporters that the agency was operating within its authority and that the e-KTP investigation was proceeding on the right track.

These developments have raised the stakes for the KPK, which must now show that it will carry out its duties without fear or favour, or risk losing public trust and being replaced by the police, said observers.

The KPK intends to stand its ground and remain impartial despite the political pressure, spokesman Febri Diansyah told The Straits Times.

"If there are parties who believe that such pressures will make the KPK delay the e-KTP case, we will prove them otherwise," he said.

Indictments on the e-KTP case filed in March allege that at least 37 members from House Commission II, a parliamentary committee, had received bribes in exchange for approving a 5.9 trillion rupiah (S$606 million) budget for the project.

Hanura party lawmaker Miryam S. Haryani is said to be the linchpin for the scheme that marked up the project cost. KPK investigators said she confessed to divvying up illicit funds with her co-conspirators in a room in Parliament.

But she later withdrew her confession, claiming in court that her statements were made under duress and that she was forced to sign them by her interrogators, one of whom was Mr Novel Baswedan.

On April 11, the veteran KPK investigator suffered serious facial injuries after he was attacked with acid. His assailants are still at large and Mr Novel remains hospitalised in Singapore.

The pansus was formed a few weeks later, after the KPK refused to share recordings of Miryam's interrogation by lawmakers.

Mr Febri explained that the commission could not hand over the lawmakers evidence in an ongoing investigation and court hearing. "The KPK standpoint has always been to separate the ongoing legal process from the political process," he said.

The members of the inquiry have also made controversial moves to dig up dirt on the KPK, including visiting graft convicts in prison to find out how their cases were handled, as well as questioning the appointments of its investigators.

Going up against its detractors in Parliament will be a tall order for the KPK, said Mr Muradi, who heads Padjadjaran University's centre for political and security studies.

"This is not just the KPK versus DPR, but KPK versus die-hard supporters of Setya Novanto, who will drag the whole institution through the mud," said Mr Muradi, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

DPR is the acronym for Indonesia's House of Representatives.

Mr Setya is no stranger to allegations of corruption. He was forced to resign as Speaker in 2015 over allegations that he solicited a bribe in the form of US$1.8 billion (S$2.5 billion) worth of shares from the Indonesian unit of American mining firm Freeport-McMoRan.

But a year later, he was cleared by an ethics committee and re-appointed as Leader of the House.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesia's anti-graft agency battles lawmakers'. Print Edition | Subscribe