JAKARTA (REUTERS, THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AFP) - An Indonesian court on Tuesday (April 24) sentenced the former speaker of parliament, Setya Novanto, to 15 years in jail for his role in causing state losses of around US$170 million (S$224.6 million), linked to a national electronic identity card scheme.
The sentence was considered a victory for an ongoing clamp-down on widespread corruption in Indonesia.
Mr Setya, once among the country’s most influential politicians, was accused of orchestrating a scheme to steal US$173 million, or almost 40 per cent of the entire budget for a government contract for the national identity card.
Prosecutors, who had questioned 80 witnesses in the case, had sought a jail term of at least 16 years.
His months-long trial came after a string of manoeuvres – including allegedly faking an injury in a car crash – that critics say the 62-year-old used to dodge serious charges.
The Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its Indonesian initials KPK, has remained one of South-east Asia’s most effective and independent agencies, despite repeated efforts to undermine it. The KPK has jailed ministers, governors, judges and other high-ranking officials and members of parliament.
“This is a warning to anybody not to act against the law,” Vice-President Jusuf Kalla told Metro TV when asked to comment on the verdict.
Novanto, who had been implicated in five graft scandals since the 1990s but never convicted, was detained by KPK investigators in November after repeatedly missing summonses for questioning over the case, saying he needed heart surgery.
He gained a measure of international fame in September 2015 when Donald Trump, then US presidential candidate, hailed him as a “great man” at a news conference in New York.
Mr Yanto, the head of a panel of five judges, also said Mr Setya would be fined 500 million rupiah (S$47,390) and barred from public office for five years after serving his sentence.
Reading out the court's verdict, presiding judge Yanto said the former Golkar Party chairman had been declared guilty of rigging the e-ID project.
Mr Setya said he would consider whether to launch an appeal.
Prosecutors indicted Mr Setya in the case when he was still Golkar’s faction leader at the House. Several other politicians, government officials and businessmen have also been charged in the scandal.
Mr Setya becomes the fourth defendant to be found guilty in the case after former Home Ministry senior officials Irman and Sugiharto as well as businessman Andi Agustinus or Andi Narogong.
The scope of the claims shocked many Indonesians even by standards of one of the world’s most corrupt countries, where payoffs and bribes are rife at all levels of society and endemic in many state agencies, including the police force.
Even with successes in the fight against corruption,the country placed 96th among 180 countries in Transparency International’s annual corruption perceptions index last year, on a par with Colombia and Thailand.
The verdict comes several years after the former chief justice of Indonesia’s constitutional court, Akil Mochtar, was jailed for life after being found guilty of accepting bribes to issue favourable verdicts in local election disputes. It was the heaviest ever sentence for corruption in Indonesia.