Indonesia's anti-graft agency faces off lawmakers

Indonesians outside the KPK complex rallying behind veteran graft investigator Novel Baswedan after he was attacked with acid while handling the e-KTP case.
Indonesians outside the KPK complex rallying behind veteran graft investigator Novel Baswedan after he was attacked with acid while handling the e-KTP case. TEMPO

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

This after the commission, better known as KPK, declared Speaker of Parliament Setya Novanto a suspect in its probe into a trail of kickbacks for politicians in a 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 that was started in late April to look into the commission's practices.

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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 exposé of the case published on Monday (July 17), 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 - an old rival of the KPK - unveiled its 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.

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 the e-KTP probe 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, its 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."

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

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

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

DPR is short 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 he solicited a bribe in the form of US$1.8 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.