Indonesia's Speaker in hospital, ending hunt by anti-graft agency

Indonesia's Speaker of the House Setya Novanto leaves a courtroom after appearing as a witness in an embezzlement case involving electronic identity cards in Jakarta. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - The Indonesian anti-corruption agency's hunt for elusive politician Setya Novanto came to an end yesterday when the Speaker of Parliament wound up in hospital after allegedly crashing his car into an electricity pole in south Jakarta.

Novanto's lawyer Fredrich Yunadi said that his client had an accident while he was making his way in his Toyota Fortuner SUV to the agency's offices to be interrogated.

"He is under the doctors' and nurses' treatment now. His head bleeds and is bandaged," Mr Fredrich told MetroTV.

Novanto is believed to be warded at Permata Hijau hospital.

Despite knowing his location, the country's graft-busting body, known as KPK, is no closer to questioning Novanto as it is prevented by law from detaining anyone who is ill or under medical treatment.

Novanto is a suspect in a major scandal unearthed in 2014 involving US$170 million (S$230 million) of stolen state funds.

Investigators have alleged that Novanto was among dozens of politicians who received kickbacks from funds earmarked for a 2009 government project to issue new identification cards, called e-KTP, to all citizens aged 17 or above.

KPK had failed to locate Novanto after a surprise raid on his home late on Wednesday. The agency searched the house for five hours and confiscated a suitcase of documents and footage from the house's CCTV system.

Mr Fredrich had said his client, who is chairman of Indonesia's second-biggest political party Golkar, is in Jakarta and is not trying to avoid the law.

"We are going to meet the leaders of this country. We will ask for time to meet the President," Mr Fredrich had told reporters yesterday, before the accident.

Mr Fredrich said members of Parliament enjoy parliamentary immunity and that they cannot be prosecuted without the President's consent.

Novanto has previously ignored KPK's multiple summons to be questioned, opting instead to chair meetings in Parliament and attend various Golkar party events. In September he failed to show up at the KPK to answer questions on three occasions, citing a heart ailment.

Golkar is Indonesia's second largest party, controlling about 15 per cent of the 560 seats in Parliament.

"KPK carries responsibilities and duties to enforce the laws fairly and indiscriminately. No one should think that the law cannot touch certain people based on immunity rights," KPK spokesman Febri Diansyah had told reporters yesterday (Nov 16).

Presidential spokesman Johan Budi told Jakarta-based Elshinta radio yesterday morning that KPK is an independent agency, stressing that the President cannot intervene in the judicial process.

Under Indonesian laws, anyone objecting to any actions or decisions taken by any law enforcement agency, or by the government, has a right to file a petition or complaint to the state administrative court. Any citizen may also file a petition to the Constitutional Court to challenge and overrule any law.

In September Novanto challenged the legality of KPK's July decision to name him as a suspect in the identity card case, and won. On Nov 10, the agency restarted its prosecution and again named him a suspect.

Golkar will provide legal assistance to Novanto and allow the due process of law to take its course, Golkar leader Mahyudin, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told Kompas daily.

About the corruption scandal

In July, Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) named Setya Novanto a suspect in the embezzlement of some 2.3 trillion rupiah (about S$230 million) from the state's coffers more than seven years ago.

Mr Novanto, who is Speaker of the Indonesian parliament, failed to show up to answer questions at the KPK three times in September, citing a heart ailment.

He took the KPK to court in September to challenge the legality of its decision to call him a suspect in the 2010 case.

Mr Novanto succeeded. The South Jakarta District Court ordered the KPK to revoke his status as a suspect, citing procedural flaws committed by anti-graft agency as among the reasons.

KPK restarted a prosecution round and declared him a suspect again last week, on Nov 10.

Once more, Mr Novanto fought back, among others by challenging the law that endows the agency with special powers to the Constitutional Court.

He also defied KPK's summons multiple times.

Late on Wednesday evening, agency officials descended on Mr Novanto's house for the first time, but failed to locate and detain him.

The investigation on Mr Novanto revolves around the embezzlement of nearly half of the 5.9 trillion rupiah that Parliament had approved for a national project to implement an e-KTP system, or kartu tanda penduduk - an identity card that was supposed to be issued to Indonesians aged 17 and older in 2009.

The KPK started investigating the project in 2014, saying it 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 e-KTP.

The House Speaker is among six individuals and the third lawmaker identified by the commission as suspects.

The others are Home Affairs Ministry senior officials Irman and Sugiharto, businessman Andi Agustinus, and lawmakers Markus Nari and Miryam S. Haryani. Miryam was on Monday (Nov 13) sentenced to five years in jail.

In July, Irman and Sugiharto were sentenced to prison terms of seven and five years, and fined 500 million rupiah and 400 million rupiah, respectively, after being found guilty of graft. Both men are appealing.

In 1999, Mr Novanto avoided prosecution over a scandal involving Bank Bali related to a high-profile, illegal lobbying case to save the then ailing bank.

More recently in the Freeport debacle, he was heard on tape allegedly demanding kickbacks from the American mining firm last year.

And he was alleged to have had a role in the illegal importation of 60,000 tonnes of rice from Vietnam, in 2010.

In 2012, the KPK raided Mr Novanto's office in the Parliament building in search of evidence of corruption in projects linked to the Riau national sports games.

Riau governor Rusli Zainal was jailed for 14 years, but investigators did not find enough evidence to implicate Mr Novanto.

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