Fri, 27 Jun 2003

House suspects favoritism in Sukhoi deal

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A House of Representatives committee of inquiry is to investigate the roles of a number of businessmen in the high-profile purchase of Russian Sukhoi warplanes, something that may implicate the inner circle of President Megawati Soekarnoputri, committee members said on Thursday.

They were of the opinion that businessman Anton Sulaiman played a major role in the US$192.6 million deal.

"We believe that Anton Sulaiman is a key player in that deal. We will hear his explanations soon," committee member Djoko Susilo of the Reform faction told The Jakarta Post.

According to Djoko, Anton is a businessman who often brokers deals for the purchase of military equipment.

In addition, the committee will also summon businessmen Manimaren Sinivasan of the Texmaco group, Setiawan Djody of the Sedco group, and Beni Sutrisno, chairman of the Indonesian Textile Association (API).

Earlier, Effendi Choirie of the National Awakening Party (PKB) faction disclosed that some committee members also wanted to summon Happy Hapsoro, Megawati's son-in-law.

But, legislators from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), which is chaired by Megawati, suggested that he not be included on the list.

Choirie added that the possibility was still open to summon Happy after hearing clarifications from the businessmen.

Happy is said to have had a role in the Sukhoi deal via businessman Tong Djoe, who lives in Singapore.

PDI Perjuangan legislator Permadi, who rejected the establishment of the inquiry team, expressed agreement with the legislators' move to summon the businessmen.

Permadi said brokers for the defense ministry or the Indonesian Military (TNI) who were involved in purchasing military equipment had to be professional.

Fellow PDI Perjuangan legislator Meilono Suwondo, meanwhile, said that the Sukhoi deal contained indications of nepotism.

"The presumption that there is nepotism involved in the Sukhoi deal is nothing surprising," Meilono told the Post.

Meanwhile, the members of the inquiry committee kept on divulging information on the Sukhoi deal. They were supposed to have closed-door meeting on Thursday afternoon, but this was delayed until unspecified date.

Some committee members revealed that the alleged irregularities centered on the decision of the government to appoint businessmen to handle the Sukhoi deal.

They questioned why the government appointed Manimaren Sinivasan of Texmaco and Anton to broker the deal despite the presence of many experienced companies.

"There are many textile manufacturers, but why did the government chose Texmaco? That is the problem," Djoko added.

Both Permadi and Meilono were not worried that the moves by politicians through the inquiry committee were designed to tarnish Megawati's image ahead of the 2004 elections.

Choirie, deputy chairman of House Commission I on political, security and defense affairs, pledged that the inquiry committee would adhere to constitutional principles.

He said the inquiry committee was a manifestation of the supervisory role of the House.

"I have no targets. But if the politicians use this for their own interests, it will be unavoidable as this is a political forum," Choirie said.