Thu, 03 Jul 2003

Megawati behind controversial Sukhoi deal: Rini

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Controversies surrounding the purchase of four Sukhoi jet fighters and two assault helicopters entered a new phase on Wednesday after Minister of Industry and Trade Rini MS Soewandi disclosed that President Megawati Soekarnoputri was the architect of the US$192.6 million deal.

Rini said the President had told her to consult the Indonesian Military (TNI) Chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto and Air Force Chief of Staff Marshall Chappy Hakim about the deal.

"I was told by the President to look into the possibility of countertrade and I had talked with the TNI chief and Air Force chief of staff," Rini told the press after opening the 2003 Jakarta International Houseware fair here on Wednesday.

Rini emphasized that all decisions and programs of the President had been discussed at the Cabinet meeting, therefore all ministers knew of the decision, Antara reported.

Rini's remark would likely encourage legislators to seek an explanation from the President directly.

Megawati said earlier that she was ready to face the House in order to set the record straight in the highly politicized case.

Legislator Effendi Choirie of the National Awakening Party (PKB) said on Wednesday that lawmakers may summon the President to get a clearer explanation as Cabinet ministers and state officials gave conflicting statements on the issue.

Choirie, deputy chairman of the House defense commission, said the summons could be held simultaneously with the hearing of the inquiry committee.

House Speaker Akbar Tandjung separately said the House could set up a special committee to probe irregularities in the Sukhoi deal.

Akbar, who is also chairman of Golkar Party, was referring to a committee set up in 2000 to examine a Rp 35 billion graft case that later led to the ouster of former president Abdurrahman Wahid in 2001.

The Sukhoi controversy started after the government signed an agreement in April with Russia for the purchase of four Sukhoi jet fighters -- two Su-27 SK and two Su-30 MK -- and two Mi-35 helicopters through a countertrade deal worth $192.6 million.

The State Logistics Agency (Bulog) paid $26 million to Rosoboronexport on May 9 as a down payment while the rest would be paid through a countertrade deal involving 30 commodities.

Legislators questioned the role of both Rini Soewandi and Bulog in the purchase of military equipment.

In a related development, the House inquiry committee summoned on Wednesday Bank Indonesia supervisory director Ahdi Ludris, Bank Bukopin director Sofyan Baswir, economist Iman Sugema, and military analysts Hasnan Habib and Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, as well as former director of PT Dirgantara Indonesia Yusman SD.

Iman said the involvement of Bulog in the purchase of the jet fighters was not a normal procedure. Bulog must focus on its function of stabilizing the price of basic foodstuffs rather than warplanes purchase.

A government regulation issued this year stated that the duty of Bulog was primarily to ensure the adequate supply of basic commodities for the people.

He stressed that the role of Bulog in the Sukhoi purchase was a violation of the government regulation.

Regarding Bank Bukopin's alleged violation of the legal lending limit, Iman said that the bank did not violate the limit because Bulog had deposited the $26 million for the down payment.

In the meantime, Hasnan Habib said the purchase of four Sukhoi jet fighters and two helicopters reflected the government's lack of strategic military planning.

He said although the money spent for the deal was only $192.6 million, much more money would be required for the maintenance and the purchase of radar or an avionics system.

Hasnan and Yusman questioned the specifications of the planes the Indonesian government had purchased for $32 million each.

Vietnam purchased Sukhoi at $30 million each while India who has a license to assemble the plane offered each Sukhoi for $22 million.

Meanwhile, the executive board of the New Indonesia Alliance Party (PIB) said the purchase of the jet fighters was a serious violation of the law.