Sat, 05 Jul 2003

Endriartono finally admits involvement in Sukhoi deal

Tiarma Siboro and Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Following the appearance of testimony from top government officials implicated in the procurement of Russian-made Sukhoi fighter planes and assault helicopters in the media, Indonesian Military (TNI) Chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto finally came clean on Friday and admitted his involvement in the deal.

But the general claimed he was not the one who initiated deal, saying that the idea first came from the government in 1997, and "the Ministry of Defense back then threw its weight behind the planned purchase and actually managed the project."

According to Endriartono, TNI headquarters at the time had repeatedly sent officers to Russia to clinch the deal.

"Unfortunately, our country was hit by the economic crisis in 1997 and the plan (to purchase the Sukhois) was dropped," the TNI chief told a media conference at Halim Perdanakusuma Airport, during which he was accompanied by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu and Air Force Chief of Staff Marshall Chappy Hakim.

Endriartono said the TNI -- as "the end user" in the Sukhoi deal -- had appointed the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) to complete the transaction as "the funds were to be disbursed from Bulog's account, which at the same time was looking for a new market for its export commodities."

"The appointment of Bulog was in line with procurement procedures and I agreed with the idea of paying for the warplanes through a countertrade deal as the country did not have the funds, while at the same time it would open the possibility for us to export our surplus commodities," he said.

The general's remarks came after a House of Representatives' inquiry committee decided to expand the probe following the discovery of a document revealing that the TNI chief had bypassed Minister of Defense Matori Abdul Djalil when procuring the Russian warplanes.

The inquiry committee is tasked with finding out whether or not the purchase of the Russian-made military aircraft violated any laws, including Law No. 3/2002 on National Defense and the state budget law.

In a letter dated April 22, 2003, Endriartono on behalf of the Ministry of Defense appointed Bulog to negotiate the procurement of the aircraft.

The existence of the letter was disclosed by the inquiry committee after it held a hearing on Thursday with Sudar, the director general of international trade at the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

During a previous hearing with the House on May 12, Endriartono categorically stated that he had no knowledge of the deal and that the military was just the "end user" of the jet fighters, while the purchaser was Bulog.

Based on the agreement between the TNI, Bulog and Russia, the purchase of the four Sukhoi fighters and two MI-35 helicopters will cost Indonesia US$192.6 million, including auxiliary equipment, and pilot and ground crew training.

Despite the inconsistencies, Endriartono dismissed allegations that he had bypassed the Ministry of Defense.

"I complied with all the procedures as the ministry's director-general for military equipment procurement, Maj. Gen. Aqlani Maza, also signed the MoU for the Sukhoi deal," he said.

"Of course, in the later transaction the ministry was not involved because we (the TNI) did not use ministry funds for the purchase," he said, while adding: "I wish the House would summon me for clarification."

Military analyst Salim Said stressed that the controversy surrounding the purchase of the Sukhois simply proved once again that many state officials and military officers lacked political savvy.

Salim said the procedural violations in the Sukhoi deal could have been avoided if both Minister of Industry and Trade Rini MS Soewandi and the TNI chief understood what the proper relationships between state institutions should be.

"The question is whether the TNI chief has the authority to appoint Bulog to manage the deal, while the industry and trade minister should have first consulted the defense minister," Salim said at a discussion here on Friday.

The inquiry committee is slated to hear clarifications from Rini on Tuesday.