Indonesia's former Speaker of Parliament Setya Novanto was charged yesterday over 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 watch worth about US$135,000 for his role in ensuring that the project was 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.
Hunched over in his seat yesterday, 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 Novanto several hours before the trial and declared him fit.
The judges adjourned the hearing in the late morning and allowed Novanto to go for another medical check up. He was found fit to stand trial and the proceedings resumed in the early afternoon. But he maintained his defiance and refused to answer questions.
Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) spokesman Febri Diansyah said that Novanto could be charged with obstruction of justice.
Legal expert Jamin Ginting told MetroTV that it is a question of whether Novanto is unable to respond to the judges due to his health condition, or an unwillingness 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 today, 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 to a KPK detention facility.
On Nov 21, Novanto was relieved of his duties as chairman of Golkar party. He resigned as Parliament Speaker on Monday.