Sat, 06 Mar 1999

Ghalib doubts tapped chat's authenticity

JAKARTA (JP): Attorney General Lt. Gen. A.M. Ghalib on Friday again expressed his doubts about the authenticity of the recently leaked bugged conversation he allegedly had with President B.J. Habibie. At the same time he blasted the press for exaggerating the issue.

Ghalib also told the press after an unscheduled meeting with Habibie at Merdeka Palace that he would hold a hearing with the House of Representatives (DPR) to clarify his side of the controversy.

"Whether the voices in the cassette are truly the President's and mine, further evidence should be sought because with sophisticated technology it is not impossible these voices were either engineered or manipulated," Ghalib said.

Ghalib was initially reluctant to talk to journalists, but later spoke briefly to them after distributing a written statement.

"The (scandal) has had an extreme effect on my concentration while I am handling big cases which need quick and thorough solutions," he hinted.

Habibie has implicitly confirmed the authenticity of the bugged conversation, and ordered Armed Forces (ABRI) Commander Gen. Wiranto to trace the phone tappers.

A palace official said on Friday Habibie was upset with Ghalib's continued denial because it would only undermine his own credibility.

"The publication of the tapped conversation without my confirmation has indeed violated our rights and it was a very unpleasant act," Ghalib said. He added he had not heard the tapped communication, but promised to explain the matter to the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

He conceded the magazine had in fact solicited his confirmation prior to the publication but said he was too busy to meet with its journalists at the time.

Ghalib also acknowledged that Habibie often telephoned him, and that they sometimes used their cellular phones. But he insisted the President never asked him to violate the law.

"Never in any conversation has he ever ordered me to do anything against the law or the prevailing legal procedures," he asserted.

Minister/State Secretary Akbar Tandjung, who is Golkar chairman, described as "irrelevant" the United Development Party (PPP) faction's motion to summon Habibie over the issue. He said he had instructed the Golkar faction to block any attempt to summon the President to the House of Representatives.

Former Golkar leader Sarwono Kusumaatmadja said in Bandung on Friday that political interests would determine whether Habibie would really appear at the House to clarify the matter.

He believed certain factions' motion to summon Habibie was more of a marketing gimmick of their parties in the run-up to the June 7 elections. (prb/43)