Former Indonesian parliament speaker Setya Novanto charged for taking kickbacks

Corruption Eradication Commission officers escorting Parliament Speaker Setya Novanto (centre) inot the Central Jakarta Court on Dec 13, 2017.
Corruption Eradication Commission officers escorting Parliament Speaker Setya Novanto (centre) inot the Central Jakarta Court on Dec 13, 2017. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - Indonesia's former Speaker of Parliament Setya Novanto was charged on Wednesday (Dec 13) for allegedly receiving at least US$7.3 million (S$10 million) in kickbacks from funds earmarked for a 2009 government project on biometric electronic identity cards.

Prosecutors said in their indictment that Novanto, 62, received the funds through some corporate bank accounts in Indonesia and overseas to avoid detection. 

He also received a Richard Mille wrist watch worth about US$135,000 for his role in ensuring that the project would be approved by Parliament.

Novanto faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if  found guilty.

The Golkar politician remained defiant before the judges, even refusing to confirm details like his name and place of birth when asked by the Central Jakarta district court on Wednesday morning.

Hunched over in his seat, Novanto told the court: “I’ve had diarrhoea for five days.”

His lawyer Maqdir Ismail said his client was too ill to stand trial, despite the prosecutors’ arguments that doctors had examined him several hours before the trial and declared him fit.

The judges adjourned the hearing late morning and allowed Novanto to go for another medical checkup.

He was found fit to stand trial and the proceedings resumed early afternoon. But he maintained his defiance, refusing to answer questions. 

Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) spokesman Febri Diansyah told reporters that Novanto could be charged with obstruction of justice. 

Legal expert Jamin Ginting told Metro TV that it is a question of whether Novanto was unable to respond to the judges due to his health condition, or he was not willing to be cooperative.

“If it is the latter, Novanto will face greater problem and the trial could proceed with or without him being cooperative.”

Novanto had earlier filed a pre-trial motion in the South Jakarta District Court to get the charges against him thrown out before the trial begins.

But a ruling on this motion will likely be declared void because it is expected to be made only on Thursday (Dec 14), a day after the start of the trial. Indonesian laws stipulate that a pre-trial motion cannot continue after the main trial starts. 

Observers said his defiance in court could have been his strategy to delay the graft trial.

Novanto was detained by the KPK last month and declared a suspect in the case involving US$170 million of stolen state funds linked to the identity card project called e-KTP.

Before he was detained, he had repeatedly missed summonses from the KPK for questioning for several months, saying he was ill and needed heart surgery.

Last month, he was involved in a car accident and put under armed guard at a hospital. He was later taken into custody and transferred from the hospital to a KPK detention facility.

On Nov 21, Novanto was relieved of his duties as chairman of Golkar party, the second biggest in Parliament. He resigned as Parliament Speaker on Monday.