Wed, 29 Dec 2004


Poso police chief questioned in refugee fund graft case

Ruslan Sangadji The Jakarta Post/Poso

Central Sulawesi Police said on Tuesday they have questioned Poso Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Abdi Dharma Sitepu for his alleged role in misappropriating refugee funds worth Rp 2 billion (US$220,000).

The probe into Sitepu's case followed a confession by a detained suspect that the police chief received Rp 50 million in refugee funds allocated for victims of the two-year sectarian conflict in Poso.

"Based on the confession of a suspect, Abdi Dharma Sitepu has been implicated in the malfeasance of refugee funds," Central Sulawesi Police chief Brig. Gen. Aryanto Sutadi told journalists.

He said the police would also summons Central Sulawesi social welfare office head Andi Azikin Suyuti in the same case.

The questioning of Sitepu and Suyuti is to determine the extent of their alleged involvement in the case, Aryanto added.

He said that a cashier at the social welfare office, Elfies Lembah, who has been named a suspect in the case, admitted to handing over Rp 50 million to Sitepu and Rp 70 million to Azikin.

Sitepu also confirmed that he had been summoned for questioning in connection with corruption, but denied all accusations.

"The suspect's confessions are not true and baseless," he said.

Azikin also denied that he had never received any money from Elfies. "I even gave him money from my own pocket several times in order for him not to misuse the refugee funds."

Azikin said the distribution of the funds for the Poso refugees were carried out according to existing rules and mechanisms set down by the central government.

"I will provide all receipts of the bank transfers from the provincial administration to the regental government. If there are any irregularities, it must have been done in the regency level," he argued.

However, Azikin said he was ready to be questioned by the police in respect of upholding law in the country.

The Rp 2 billion in question had been transferred from Jakarta to the Central Sulawesi social welfare office, then forwarded to the Poso regental administration, which later distributed the money to refugees.

Each family supposedly received Rp 2.5 million, but many refugees complained they got less.

Thousands of people were forced to flee the religious conflict from 2000 to 2002 in Poso, which killed some 2,000 others. Most of the refugees returned home after a peace deal was signed in 2002. However, renewed attacks have continued sporadically across Poso and Palu.

The latest violence took place on Monday when two bombs exploded at the border area between Sayo and Kawua subdistricts. However, no casualties were reported.

The explosions were heard at around 9 p.m. and 9:25 p.m., which stunned local residents.

Sitepu said the homemade bombs were of low explosives, which appeared to have been intentionally placed on the roadside.

"If the bombs had exploded when cars passed by there, it (the impact) could have been fatal. Luckily, they exploded when the street was empty," he added.

He said the police were investigating the motives behind the blasts and searching for the perpetrators.

During the past sectarian riots in Poso, Sayo subdistrict was a stronghold for Muslims and Kawua was mainly a Christian area.

The situation in Poso remained normal despite the bomb attacks. Traffic was quite heavy and not affected by the bombings.

The Poso police, meanwhile, captured one of five suspects accused of attacking Reverend Jemri Tembalino and church-goer Jhoni Teger on Christmas Eve last Friday.

The suspect, identified only by his initials as SM, 37, was arrested on Saturday, Sitepu said.

Jemri and Jhoni have been hospitalized in Poso for stab wounds to the face, hands and fingers.