Tue, 06 Aug 2002

North Sulawesi governor faces corruption charges

Yongker Rumthe, The Jakarta Post, Manado

North Sulawesi Governor A.J. Sondakh and other senior local officials are facing a corruption probe into the alleged embezzlement of the interest on Rp 101 billion that has been deposited in state-owned banks since 2000.

The money originally came from emergency funds allocated for 1999 and 2000, transfers from the general allocation fund, and supplemental budgets for North Sulawesi between 1999 and 2001.

Under Bylaw No. 151/1999 issued by the provincial administration, such funds cannot be deposited in banks.

Sondakh and other senior local government officials are accused of pocketing the interest on the deposits as there were no reports that it had ever been channeled to the administration.

Nor did Sondakh mention the bank deposits in his recent accountability report, strengthening allegations that he had embezzled the money deposited in Bank Mandiri and the North Sulawesi Bank.

Accompanied by his lawyer, Jemmy Lelet, Sondakh was grilled for 21 hours over two consecutive days starting last Thursday by investigators at North Sulawesi Police headquarters over the scandal.

The investigation followed the approval for Sondakh's questioning by President Megawati Soekarnoputri in July.

"We have investigated A.J. Sondakh as a witness and presented him with 132 questions," North Sulawesi Police detectives chief Halba Nugroho told The Jakarta Post.

He said the governor was "cooperative" in facing the investigation and had made no difficulties.

Nugroho said that whether Sondakh would be named as a suspect still depended on an evaluation of the inquiry outcome this week.

North Sulawesi Deputy Governor Freddy H. Sualang, as well as the former secretary of the provincial administration J.F. Mailangkay and local acting treasurer Theis Tumakaka have also been questioned over the case.

Only Mailangkay and Theis have been declared suspects.

At least Rp 29 billion out of the bank deposits had been used to pay last year's salaries of local state teachers while the remaining Rp 72 billion was seized by the police as evidence in the investigation.

Nugroho said the seizure was made after the police obtained an order from the Manado District Court in the middle of last month.

The deposit scandal was first revealed by Freddy, who also chairs the province's chapter of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), and other local party executives, Benny Rhamdani and Roy Maningakas.

Freddy claimed that he only found out about the Rp 101 billion in bank deposits after reading a report by the local internal supervisory board.

Rhamdani lamented the move to deposit the money in banks between 1999 and 2001, saying that at the time North Sulawesi was in dire need of funds, forcing the local administration to set up a team to seek money from the central government. He did not elaborate further.