Fri, 23 Jun 2000

Govt comes under fire over Sjahril

JAKARTA (JP): The government came under strong attack from top politicians on Thursday for detaining Bank Indonesia (BI) Governor Sjahril Sabirin on corruption charges.

Speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly Amien Rais said the detention, coming after a relentless government campaign to unseat Sjahril, amounted to political intervention in the affairs of the central bank.

"Once again, the supremacy of the law has been subordinated by political play," Amien told reporters.

"The law has become a mere commodity, like cattle you buy and sell. Frankly, I'm deeply disappointed with the way the government has treated the issue," he said.

There were other people far more deserving to be detained than Sjahril if his crime was disbursing trillions of rupiah of Bank Indonesia's liquidity credit, he said.

"Sjahril probably accounted for 1 percent of the crime. But if the others who stole people's money got away, then the law is not functioning," he said, adding that the Attorney General's Office had put its own credibility on the line.

House Speaker Akbar Tandjung, who supported Sjahril in the stand off with President Abdurrahman Wahid, said the reason cited for the detention -- that he might flee, destroy evidence or commit another crime -- was flimsy and inappropriate.

He underscored the fact that Sjahril had cooperated with the investigation.

Akbar, who met with members of Bank Indonesia's board of governors, said he would seek more clarification from the Attorney General's Office regarding Sjahril's detention.

The board of governors appointed deputy governor Anwar Nasution on Wednesday to head the bank in Sjahril's absence.

Sjahril was detained by the Attorney General's Office on Wednesday after a marathon five hours of questioning in connection with his alleged role in the Bank Bali scandal.

Attorney General Marzuki Darusman said investigators had found some evidence of corruption by Sjahril.

Sjahril's decision to order the invoicing and payment of Bank Bali funds without going through some verification process amounted to a crime, Marzuki said.

The Bank Bali scandal revolves around the payment by Bank Bali last year of US$80 million in commission to PT Era Giat Prima, a company linked to the Golkar Party, for the recovery of interbank loans owed to the government.

Some of the key suspects in the Bank Bali scandal have testified to the presence of Sjahril at a meeting with Golkar politicians in a luxury hotel in Jakarta during which the scam was supposed to have been concocted.

Sjahril has denied the allegation and maintains he is innocent. He has accused the President of trying to buy him off with ambassadorial posts if he resigned from the central bank.

Senior government officials, meanwhile, played down the political significance of Sjahril's detention and insisted that it should not have any impact on the economy or the rupiah.

Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Finance and Industry Kwik Kian Gie said there was no reason at all why Indonesia's macroeconomic indicators should not continue to improve.

The rupiah, however, tumbled for the second day running over concerns over Sjahril's detention on Thursday, closing at Rp 8,710 to the dollar compared to Rp 8,640 on Wednesday.

The Jakarta stock market, in contrast, ended higher with the Composite Index up by 1.5 percent to break the key support of 500 and close at 501.809. Dealers said the market ignored the political rift between Sjahril and the President and was instead inspired by overnight gains on Wall Street.

Minister of Finance Bambang Sudibyo has also dismissed speculation that Sjahril's detention would undermine the government's economic reform programs.

The government's statements appeared at odds with the warning by Bank Indonesia that the latest twist in the stand off between Sjahril and Abdurrahman would affect the monetary stability.

Deputy Governor Anwar again echoed this feeling on Thursday.

"Of course, there will be an impact. But if we stick to the existing program, we could minimize the negative impact," he said.

Anwar also pleaded for the government to provide a better facility for Sjahril, saying that the detention center at the Attorney General's Office complex was improper.

"We're not asking for a five-star facility, but a more comfortable one," he told reporters after his meeting with Akbar.

"He is the central bank governor. He is not Eddy Tansil," Anwar said, referring to a notorious businessman convicted for corruption, who is now at large.

Anwar asked that Sjahril be provided with basic necessities, including proper food and a laptop computer which he needed to prepare his legal defense.

Anwar and BI deputy governor Achjar Iljas visited Sjahril at the detention center, bringing food and bottled mineral water, just in time for Sjahril to break his Thursday fast.

Anwar said he felt sad to see his superior behind bars.

Journalists were prevented from seeing Sjahril.

Chief of the detention security Dulani told journalists that Sjahril looked healthy. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, a pair of black trousers and black leather sandals.

A. Hamid, a security officer who brought food to Sjahril, however, said that Sjahril looked stunned when he was brought to the detention center on Wednesday.

"He just kept quiet. He hardly touched his food last night," Hamid said. (bby/rei/prb/jun/har)