Tue, 25 Feb 2003

Chief councillors held for corruption

Ainur R. Sophiaan, The Jakarta Post, Surabaya

Prosecutors arrested on Monday top councillors in the country's second largest city of Surabaya on charges of corruption involving more than Rp 22.5 billion (US$2.5 million).

Speaker of the Surabaya legislative council Muhammad Basuki and his deputy Ali Burhan are being held at Madaeng prison in the city. The arrests were made shortly after police submitted the suspects' dossiers to the local prosecutor's office on Monday.

Basuki, a legislator with the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), claimed his detention was politically motivated following an internal dispute among the party's elite in Jakarta.

The chief councillor was recently sacked from PDI Perjuangan by the party's central board, which is headed by President Megawati Soekarnoputri, and he had joined a new political group chaired by film director Eros Djarot, one of Megawati's staunchest opponents.

Basuki and Burhan are accused of embezzling Rp 22.5 billion in state funds from the city budget, a case in which other councillors and secretary of the Surabaya administration M. Yasin are also implicated.

Apart from Burhan of the National Awakening Party (PKB), two other deputies under Basuki, Puji Astuti and Herman Ricai, have also been named as suspects in the same graft case. They were not arrested, however.

"The case should be the responsibility of the council as an institution, not myself and Ali Burhan personally, because the funds had been enjoyed by all councillors," Basuki said, while pledging to cooperate with investigators.

Head of the Surabaya prosecutor's office Luhut Pakpahan defended his decision to detain the two senior legislators, saying the arrests were based on proper legal procedures and were aimed at smoothing the process of inquiry.

He said his office had strong evidence to arrest and charge the suspects, citing a report from the development finance controller (BPKB), which revealed the Rp 22.5 billion embezzlement.

Only around Rp 1.7 billion of the embezzled funds were recovered by prosecutors, Luhut added.

It was not clear whether other councillors would join Basuki and Burhan behind bars for their alleged role in the scandal.

Investigators said the two detained suspects had issued several decrees to approve the disbursement of state funds for the benefit of council members between 2000 and 2002.

Luhut said Basuki and Burhan were charged with violating Law No. 31/1999 and Law No. 20/2001 on corruption and may face 20 years in prison if found guilty.

The suspects would be held for 20 days and the detention was extendible, the chief prosecutor said, adding that he would submit their case files to court soon.

Iskandar and Sumarso, the lawyers representing the two councillors, criticized the detention of their clients and demanded that they be released.

The graft scandal has tarnished the image of the 45-member council, where PDI Perjuangan and PKB are the two largest factions, with 22 seats and 18 seats respectively.

Other councillors expressed concern over the arrest of Basuki and Burhan, but said it would not affect their routine duties.

"With the detention of the chief legislator and his deputy, I am in charge of the daily duties of the council," said Puji Astuti, another deputy speaker from the military/police faction.