Indonesian house speaker under pressure to resign amid ethics probe

Mr Setya is at the centre of a controversy related to Freeport McMoRan Inc.'s work contract in Indonesia.
Mr Setya is at the centre of a controversy related to Freeport McMoRan Inc.'s work contract in Indonesia.PHOTO: JAKARTA POST

JAKARTA (Reuters) - A senior official of the largest opposition party in Indonesia's parliament briefly created confusion on Friday about the status of the house speaker, who is under public pressure over alleged ethical misconduct.

Mr Fahmi Idris, a senior Golkar party official, told Reuters that Mr Setya Novanto had resigned as speaker. But less than an hour later, Mr Idris said Mr Setya had not resigned and retained the backing of his party.

Mr Setya is at the centre of a controversy related to efforts by mining giant Freeport McMoRan Inc. to get its contract to work in Indonesia extended.

Energy Minister Mr Sudirman Said this week lodged a complaint against Mr Setya with the parliament ethics committee, alleging that the house speaker had used the president and vice president's names to demand a stake in Freeport's Indonesian unit.

Mr Setya could not be immediately reached for comment. Indonesian media have quoted him acknowledging he met Freeport executives but denying he used the names of President Joko Widodo and Vice-President Jusuf Kalla in the talks.

Some members of parliament have called on Mr Setya to step down as the ethics committee undertakes a probe into the allegations against him.

Mr Adlan Napitupulu, an MP from Widodo's ruling PDIP party, told a press conference on Friday "Parliament cannot run like this. If the ethics committee is not firm, we plan to file a no-confidence motion against Novanto."

An online petition calling for Mr Setya's resignation had received around 50,000 signatures.

Mr Setya has previously stirred controversy when he made a surprise appearance at a campaign event for controversial Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in New York in September.

The Jakarta Globe said his move spawned a torrent of questions back home.

The newspaper said Mr Setya stunned fellow politicians and the Indonesian public alike when he was brought up to the podium and shook hands with Mr Trump, in a "fawning" appearance that members of the House of Representatives in Jakarta condemned as unethical because it could be perceived as an explicit endorsement by Indonesia of Mr Trump's presidential bid.

Mr Setya was in New York to speak at the Fourth World Conference of Speakers of Parliament held by the International Parliamentary Union. He went with fellow legislators, including Deputy Speaker Fadli Zon, according to the Jakarta Post.

The newspaper said that during their brief interaction, Mr Trump asked Mr Setya about what Indonesians thought of him: "Do they like me in Indonesia?"

"Yes, very much," Mr Setya answered.

The Jakarta Globe said that the trip spurred questions about the more than 4.6 billion rupiah (S$460,000) in taxpayer money used to fund the legislators' trip to the US.

An expensive gold watch that flashed briefly from beneath Mr Setya's shirt cuff as he shook Mr Trump's hand has also added to the public relations "firestorm" around him, the Jakarta Globe reported.

Some on Twitter have identified the timepiece as a Swiss-made Richard Mille RM 011 Flyback Chronograph "Rose Gold", which luxury watch aficionados on online forums and sellers listed at U$140,000 apiece (S$199,000) and from US$100,000 for a second-hand piece.