Sat, 10 Jul 2004

KPK threatens to summon Puteh by force

Tiarma Siboro and Nani Farida, Jakarta/Banda Aceh

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) threatened on Friday to summon Aceh Governor Abdullah Puteh by force for questioning over graft charges, after he failed for the second time to show up.

Puteh should have appeared before KPK investigators on Friday to clarify his alleged role in a markup in the purchase of a Russian-made Mi-2 helicopter.

"Due to his ignorance, we decided to use legal force to bring him to our office and face investigation," commission chairman Taufikurahman Ruki said after a leadership meeting.

He said his office would coordinate with the National Police "to pick Puteh up from where he is now". Taufikurahman did not say when the suspect would be summoned for the third time.

Earlier, Puteh's lawyer O.C. Kaligis said his client had not responded to the summons as it had been sent in a facsimile. However, Taufikurahman denied this.

On Tuesday, the Aceh governor, who is also the administrator of the state of civil emergency in the province, defied his first summons to attend the KPK office.

Asked whether the KPK would issue an arrest warrant for Puteh, Taufikurahman said, "we will do it only after we clarify whether his absence was due to his ignorance -- and not because of his official duties as governor".

The KPK had declared Puteh a suspect and banned him last week from traveling abroad during the investigation.

Meanwhile, ad-interim coordinating minister for political and security affairs Hari Sabarno and Aceh council leaders refused to recommend the much-demanded suspension of Puteh as governor.

The minister held a meeting on Friday at his office with Aceh council leaders to discuss the issue.

After the meeting, Hari said he could not recommend that Puteh be suspended, because it was the authority of the President to do so.

However, in a recent debate with presidential candidates on June 30, President Megawati Soekarnoputri backed calls for the suspension of Puteh to face the graft probe.

It was not clear why Megawati did not commit to her own statement by ordering Hari to immediately push for Puteh's suspension.

Apparently coming out in Puteh's defense, Hari said the investigation should not necessarily restrict the governor from carrying out his daily duties in Aceh.

A similarly reason was provided by Aceh councillors, who said that a plenary meeting to suspend Puteh could only be held after the court issued a verdict against him.

"Until now, we have not reached a legally binding decision that Puteh has committed corruption, so we cannot do anything to suspend him," Aceh council speaker T. Muhammad Yus said.

"But, once the case is brought to court, and if he is sentenced to more than five years in jail, he will automatically be suspended," he added.

Despite the corruption charges, Puteh was named by President Megawati as the civil emergency administrator in Aceh, after one year of martial law, to stamp out decades of rebellion there.

Puteh has nevertheless been placed in the hot seat following the Aceh Police's previous investigation -- in cooperation with the military -- into his alleged roles in corruption cases that involved billions of rupiah of state funds.

The cases included the alleged markup in the purchase of the helicopter that caused some Rp 12 billion in state losses.

The National Police were also investigating Puteh over another corruption case related to the purchase of power generators worth Rp 30 billion.