Thu, 12 Feb 2004

Police brace for Akbar's verdict

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Surabaya/Medan

Hundreds of police personnel will be deployed at the Supreme Court compound as security authorities brace up for possible violence during the corruption trial of Golkar Chairman Akbar Tandjung on Thursday.

Jakarta Police spokesperson Sr. Comr. Prasetyo said on Wednesday that some 700 police officers, equipped with shields, batons and tear gas, would be stationed in and around the compound when judges deliberating Akbar's appeal issue a binding verdict over his corruption case.

Akbar, who has made known his political ambition to run for the presidency in the upcoming elections, is battling to have his guilty verdict thrown out by the Supreme Court.

The Golkar chairman was sentenced to three years in prison by the Central Jakarta District Court in 2002 for his role in a Rp 40 billion (US$4.8 million) financial scandal involving the State Logistics Agency (Bulog), making him the first high-ranking official to be sentenced to prison for corruption.

Maintaining his innocence, Akbar appealed the verdict with the Jakarta High Court. The court, however, upheld the sentence in 2003, prompting Akbar to file an appeal with the Supreme Court, which will hand down its verdict on Thursday (today).

Speculation is rife that Akbar, who is also Speaker of the House of Representatives, will be acquitted on the grounds that he was just acting on the instruction of former president B.J. Habibie.

Hundreds of supporters and opponents of Akbar are expected to protest in front of the court as judges deliver the verdict that will determine the future of Akbar's political career.

During the second deliberation on Feb. 4, supporters and opponents of Akbar came close to fighting as both groups tried to outdo each other.

Student activists already staged a rally on Wednesday in front of the court on Jl. Medan Merdeka Timur, urging judges deliberating Akbar's appeal to help fight against the country's pandemic corruption.

Prasetyo said tear gas would be used if the protests turned violent.

"Water canons will be on hand at the Jakarta Police compound, and will be sent in if needed," he said.

The situation inside the courthouse itself was normal on Wednesday, except for staff of the court's information department, who were busy registering journalists wishing to cover Akbar's trial.

The five judges in charge of Akbar's appeal were busy with their daily activities, while no guards were assigned to protect judge Paulus Effendy Lotulung, head of the five-member panel.

The four other members are Muchsin, who is a former lecturer at the Surabaya-based Airlangga University, Abdurrahman Saleh, a former chairman of Jakarta-based Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), and career judges Arbijoto and Parman Suparman.

While Jakarta Police were busy figuring out security arrangements for his trial, Akbar flew to Surabaya, East Java on Wednesday, where he appealed to the Supreme Court to clear him of the corruption charge.

Akbar, however, stressed that he had prepared other options if he lost the appeal.

"Whether I like it or not, the court's verdict will affect my presidential candidacy, but I don't want to ruin the solidity of my party, no matter what happens," Akbar said.

Meanwhile, several Golkar leaders organized a public discussion on Wednesday, during which they demonstrated optimism that Akbar would be acquitted.

Present in the discussion were Nasrullah, a lecturer from the University of Indonesia and Bomer Pasaribu, a former manpower minister, who now serves as one of the party's deputy secretaries general.

During the discussion, all panelists said that Akbar was not guilty, arguing that "he merely carried out the instruction of his superior" -- former president B.J. Habibie.

Article 51 of the Criminal Code stipulates that someone cannot be held accountable for something he or she does on instruction from his or her superior.