Wed, 02 Jul 2003

House committee still in the dark over Sukhoi deal

Kurniawan Hari and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The House of Representatives committee of inquiry into the purchase of Russian-made Sukhoi warplanes and helicopters on Tuesday failed to obtain the explanations it wanted from three businessmen regarding the high-profile case.

The three businessmen, Anton Sulaiman from PT Penta Adi Samudra, Benny Soetrisno from the Indonesian Textile Association, and Marimutu Manimaren from the Texmaco Group provided legislators with information on trade technicalities, but failed to shed light on the US$192.6 million deal.

In the first day of its work on Monday, the inquiry committee set up by the House defense commission failed to elicit information from former State Logistics Agency (Bulog) chairman Rizal Ramli and businessman Setiawan Djody as both walked out of the hearing.

"So far, we have not received any information on the purchase of the Sukhois. But, at least we gained some knowledge on the ins and outs of international trade," committee chairman Ibrahim Ambong said after the closed-door hearing on Tuesday.

Ambong, of the Golkar Party, said that the inquiry would seek information on the controversial deal from the officials and experts who had been summoned.

An official from Bank Indonesia, members of Bank Bukopin's board of directors, and economists from the Institute for the Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF) are expected to appear before the inquiry on Wednesday.

Minister of Industry and Trade Rini MS Soewandi, who was initially scheduled to appear before the committee, is unlikely to attend the hearing as this was blocked by the House industry and trade commission.

The industry and trade commission demanded that instead of a committee of inquiry set up by the defense commission, the investigation should be carried out by a joint committee selected from the commissions on defense, industry, and finance.

Djoko Susilo of the Reform faction, an inquiry committee member, disclosed that during the hearing Anton Sulaiman admitted he had a close relationship with Taufik Kiemas, the husband of President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

In fact, Anton's relationship with Taufik was so close that Taufik's son-in-law, Happy Hapsoro -- husband of Taufik's daughter Puan Maharani -- addressed Anton as "Uncle," according to Djoko.

"I am afraid the close relationship may involve corruption, collusion, and nepotism," Djoko said.

However, Anton denied allegations that the relationship involved any form of collusion or corruption.

"I know Pak Taufik, but I have no business relations with him or with this (Sukhoi) project," Anton told the press after the hearing.

Anton, whom legislators said played an important role in the Sukhoi deal, emphasized that he had only visited Russia once, in 1997, and that was for recreational purposes.

Benny, meanwhile, said that a delegation of 11 businessmen visited Russia last April to attend a business exhibition when President Megawati and her entourage were also visiting the country.

Although they were there at the same time, the businessmen were not informed about the Sukhoi deal, Benny added.

Benny said that personally he agreed with the barter deal applied in the Sukhoi case as it would help businessmen open up new markets for their products.

Manimaren, however, refused to answer any questions from journalists.

Separately, Rini MS Soewandi said on Tuesday that she was ready to take the responsibility for having arranged the purchase of the four Sukhoi warplanes and two attack helicopters.

"Since the beginning I said that I am responsible and I have explained the situation to the House industry and trade commission," the minister said after attending a ceremony marking the 57th anniversary of the National Police.

She urged all sides to stop making comments on the deal.

"Stop making baseless comments. It will only confuse people," Rini remarked.

Later in the day, President Megawati Soekarnoputri summoned her Cabinet ministers to a closed-door meeting at the Presidential Palace.

Presidential office staff said that the impromptu meeting was to discuss the Sukhoi deal.

Present at the meeting were Vice President Hamzah Haz, three coordinating ministers, Rini, Bulog chief Widjanarko Puspoyo, Minister of Defense Matori Abdul Djalil, Indonesian Military chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto and Minister of Finance Boediono.