Thu, 26 Jun 2003

Sukhoigate may mar Megawati's 2004 bid

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja and Sri Wahyuni, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Yogyakarta

The planned investigation by the House of Representatives into the purchase of Russian-made Sukhoi jet fighters may not lead to the impeachment of President Megawati Soekarnoputri, but it could tarnish her image and jeopardize her reelection bid.

The inquiry team under the House Commission I on defense and foreign affairs initially mulled summoning Megawati's son-in-law Hapsoro, implying the possible role of Megawati's inner circle in clinching the controversial deal.

The team, officially called Panja, or working committee, however, failed to agree on whether to summon Hapsoro due to objections from legislators of Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), said team members.

"At the first Panja meeting it was proposed that the team summon him, but the majority of members wanted the summons postponed while awaiting information from parties connected to Hapy (Hapsoro)," legislator Chotibul Umam Wiranu told Antara.

Legislator Effendy Choirie, executive chairman of the inquiry team, said there were speculations that Hapsoro may have been among those local businessmen involved in the deal.

"We do not want to judge him of anything, but we have information that indicate he may have been among those businessmen who brokered the deal," Choirie told The Jakarta Post.

Both Choirie and Chotibul Umam are from the National Awakening Party (PKB), whose founder, former president Abdurrahman Wahid, was kicked out of office in 2001 and was replaced by his deputy, Megawati.

The Post tried to contact Hapsoro, but was unable to reach him.

Separately, PDI Perjuangan deputy secretary-general Pramono Anung Wibowo said the probe was part of a systematic effort to block Megawati's chance to be reelected in the 2004 presidential election.

"I think this was initiated by people who were long-standing partners of the New Order government, and who suffered losses as they were not included in the deal," Pramono told the Post.

"This is a systematic effort to downgrade the President's achievement ahead of the 2004 election," he remarked.

In regards Hapsoro's possible involvement in the affair, he replied, "That is a rumor spread to tarnish her public image, as if to insinuate that her family is involved in this kind of business."

As part of its inquiry into the Sukhoi case, the working committee has summoned a number of businessmen, whom the committee believe had knowledge about the purchase of the jet fighters.

They include noted businessman Setiawan Djody of the Sedco Group, Manimaren Sinivasan of the Texmaco Group and Anton Sulaiman of Djarum Group.

Setiawan Djody is being summoned in his capacity as chairman of the Indonesia-Russia division of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Anton is being summoned, said Choiri, because "We heard that Anton may also be involved in the arms business. We simply want to clarify this information."

Manimaren's connection to the case was not made clear.

The inquiry team has also summoned businessmen dubbed "the business partners of the Ministry of Defense", who had failed to win the contract for the purchase of Sukhoi jets. The team did not identify these businessmen.

Megawati bypassed the Ministry of Defense when she clinched the US$197 million deal to buy four Sukhoi jet fighters and two Mi-35 assault helicopters during her visit to Russia in April.

She instead assigned Minister of Industry and Trade Rini Soewandi and the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) to arrange payment through a countertrade scheme involving 30 local commodities.

The controversy over the purchase of the jet fighters did not surface until Minister of Finance Boediono refused to disburse state money to repay Bulog, which had paid a $30 million down payment, contending that the deal was not included in the state budget.

Speaking from Hanoi on Wednesday, Minister Rini acknowledged that she could have possibly violated several regulations in proceeding with the deal, as she was not really familiar with the bureaucracy.

Separately, Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the government would cooperate fully with the House in the investigation.

"The point is that the probe will ensure public accountability of the purchase and explain the real issues concerning the deal, including the funding," Susilo said from Yogyakarta.