Tue, 08 Jul 2003

Defense ministry not involved in Sukhoi purchase: Officials

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Officials with the Ministry of Defense on Monday told the House of Representatives' inquiry on the purchase of Russian jets that the ministry was not involved in the deal, confirming previous reports of procedural violations in the purchase.

The ministry's director general for defense strategy Maj. Gen. Sudradjat said that the ministry was not involved because the money was not taken from its budget.

Sudradjat, however, refused to say there was a procedural violation in the purchase of Russian military equipment.

"It would be better if people from all the related institutions sat and discussed the issue together," Sudradjat told the press after a hearing with the House committee of inquiry into the Sukhoi deal.

Moreover, Sudradjat said that the US$192.6 million Sukhoi deal was unique because it embraced countertrade, involving a number of local commodities, including crude palm oil.

He reiterated that the defense ministry was not involved in the deal but had technical cooperation with Russia, especially in the defense sector and transfer of technology.

Also attending the hearing on Monday were the ministry's secretary-general Suprihadi and the ministry's director general of defense equipment Maj. Gen. Aqlani Maza.

Unlike the previous hearings, legislators were less enthusiastic to give information to the press.

Deputy committee chairman Effendi Choirie of the National Awakening Party (PKB) who willingly briefed the press on previous hearings was reticent on Monday, as was Djoko Susilo of the Reform faction.

It's not clear what made them unwilling to provide details of the hearing.

Some sources said, however, some legislators were becoming disinterested in the inquiry as most people invited to speak in the hearing appeared to defend the Sukhoi deal and nobody revealed damaging evidence linked to the suspected irregularities.

The controversy emerged after President Megawati Soekarnoputri sealed the purchase of four Sukhoi jets and two assault helicopters during her visit to Russia in April.

The purchase of the jet fighters and helicopters which took place without consultation with the House had enraged legislators who later formed a committee of inquiry into the deal.

Before the inquiry began last week, news circulated that the deal was brokered by businessmen close to the President. And even the President's son-in-law was mentioned.

During the hearings, however, no one mentioned the involvement of the President's inner circle. Even businessman Anton Sulaiman, who admitted being close to the President's husband Taufik Kiemas, said that he was not in Russia when the deal was struck.

A number of officials and businessmen invited to the hearings, however, gave different or even contradictory accounts.

Widjanarko Puspoyo, head of the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) which financed the purchase of the jets, for instance, disclosed that the deal had been discussed among military officials.

However, Sudar, the Ministry of Industry and Trade's director general for international trade, stated that the main purpose in the Sukhoi deal was to expand markets for Indonesian commodities, not to purchase Sukhoi jets.

In an effort to clarify the conflicting statements, the TNI chief and other officials from the military are expected to appear before the inquiry on Tuesday.

The inquiry will also hear on Tuesday an explanation from Minister of Industry and Trade Rini MS Soewandi who played a major role in the purchase.