Thu, 27 May 2004

Senior Poso official held over aid misuse

Ruslan Sangadji and Rusman, Poso/Samarinda

While in Central Sulawesi, Poso Social Affairs Office head Anwar Ali has been detained for allegedly embezzling funds earmarked for refugees; in East Kalimantan, East Kutai Legislative Council speaker Abdal Nanang has been charged with graft.

Prosecutors said on Wednesday Anwar had been held at the Poso Penitentiary since Tuesday on charges of misusing Rp 130 million (US$14,444) in aid, which was intended for refugees forced to flee sectarian fighting in the troubled town.

"The issue is not whether the nominal amount is big or small, but the act of misusing aid for refugees. That's why we detained him," Poso Prosecutor's Office head Raden H. Badri told The Jakarta Post.

The arrest of Anwar came after several other suspects were questioned, including his treasurer, Rustam, staff official Asikin Lasawesi, councillor Idrus Tadji of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), and Poso village head Yanis Tatombu.

All four claimed Anwar was responsible for the corruption, Raden said. "So, we have to hold him accountable for his crime", he added.

The chief prosecutor said his office has completed the dossiers of Rustam, Idrus Tadji, Asikin Lasawedi and Yanis Tatombu and would hand them over to the court soon.

Separately, Poso Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Abdi Dharma Sitepu said at least five more councillors were being questioned as witnesses for their alleged roles in the same graft case.

"They will likely be named suspects," he said, although he did not individually name the councillors concerned.

Hundreds of people fled their homes in Poso when the town entered two years of sectarian conflict that largely ceased with the December 2001 peace accord. Most of the refugees have already returned to Poso, however.

A graft case involving Rp 46.6 billion has scandalized the East Kutai Council in East Kalimantan province.

Council speaker Abdal Nanang has been named a suspect and his deputy, Bahrid Buseng, questioned as a witness in the misuse of funds from the council's secretariat between 2001 and 2002.

East Kutai Prosecutor's Office head Rasidi said that based on an investigation, Bahrid, of the PDI-P faction, could be named a suspect.

Other councillors would also be summoned for questioning over the same case, Rasidi said on Wednesday.

Prosecutors had earlier declared council secretary Darly Yusuf a suspect in the same scandal. He is standing trial at the East Kutai District Court.

However, Abdal remains free despite the graft charge. "There is no need to detain the suspect at present, we are gathering more evidence," Rasidi said.

If convicted, Abdal could face a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison and a Rp 1 billion fine. Abdal has denied the charges: "I have never taken even a cent of the council secretariat's money. The salary I get every month is enough, my lifestyle is comfortable," he said.

He added, while he would comply should he be summoned by the prosecution for questioning, he was considering suing the prosecutors for libel.