Mon, 12 May 2003

Lawyer charged with bribery represents client in assault case

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Elza Syarief, the controversial lawyer of Hutomo "Tommy Mandala Putra, is back in court, not as a defendant for allegedly bribing witnesses but as a defense lawyer.

The Association of Indonesian Lawyers (APHI) has criticized the development as morally wrong.

Elza is currently acting for David, alias A Miauw, who is charged with damaging the Tempo office building and the assault of the weekly newsmagazine's journalists.

APHI head Luhut M.P. Pangaribuan said Elza had the right to continue practicing as "she is innocent until the court says otherwise".

"But again, it is a legal justification. In the legal profession we have morals and ethics we should abide by. Elza should clear her name first," Luhut told The Jakarta Post.

He suggested Elza ensure her case goes to trial in the near future.

"If not, the public will see her as a criminal. Moreover, people will think that she has made (paid) the prosecutors halt the case until people forget all about it."

Elza admitted to the Indonesian Advocates and Lawyers Association (HAPI) ethics committee in May last year that she gave a total of Rp 5.8 million (US$651) to two witnesses in the case of Tommy, the youngest son of former president Soeharto.

The witnesses, Rahmat and Tatang Somantri, were former security guards at the Cemara Apartment in Menteng, Central Jakarta, where several unregistered firearms and ammunition belonging to Tommy was found.

Tommy was later sentenced to 15 years in jail for murdering a Supreme Court justice, firearms possession and fleeing from justice.

Rahmat told the Central Jakarta District Court that Elza paid him Rp 2 million to retract statements to police that implicated Tommy and to deny the signature on the statement was his.

The ethics committee slapped Elza on the hand, only ordering her to cease representing Tommy. It concluded that "Elza only followed her instincts to do her best for her client".

The committee's chairman was Yan Apul Girsang, who was also chairman of HAPI's disciplinary council. He was once tried for giving false information to a notary public in Surabaya. However, he was acquitted of all charges in 2001.

Police detained Elza for a month during their investigation and submitted the dossier to the Jakarta prosecutor's office in June last year.

Prosecutors said in February that they were ready to take the case to court but as of today had not done so.

The office is now saying that Elza is not the prime suspect in the case.

"The case has yet to be submitted to the court, pending the (police) completion of the Rahmat and Tatang dossiers. Both of them are key to the case because they were the ones who took the money and lied to the court," a source at the prosecutor's office told the Post on Wednesday. He claimed that it was a strategy to secure the case.

Elza is charged with violating Article 242 of the Criminal Code on giving false testimony under oath as well as Article 2 of Law No. 11/1980 on bribery. They carry a maximum penalty of seven years and five years in prison respectively.

Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Prasetyo said on Friday that the investigators were still working on the dossiers on Tatang and Rahmat.

"Why should the prosecutors wait for the cases of Tatang and Rahmat before proceeding with Elza's case? They are separate cases. The prosecutors can't use that as the reason for the sluggish processing of Elza's case," he told the Post.