Thu, 22 May 2003

W. Java councillors named suspects

Yuli Tri Suwarni, The Jakarta Post, Bandung

Prosecutors named three West Java deputy council speakers as suspects in a graft case related to last year's controversy over a Rp 25 billion (US$2.9 million) gift to all 100 councillors.

The announcement came on Wednesday, a day before the council was to elect the West Java governor, prompting suspicions that it was an attempt to influence the election's outcome.

Head of the West Java prosecutors' office Sudhono Iswahyudi announced the suspects: Kurdi Moekri of the United Development Party (PPP) faction; Suyaman of the Golkar faction; and Suparno, now retired, of the Police and the Indonesian Military faction.

Sudhono said their names were gleaned from the accounts of 11 witnesses from the council and the West Java administration.

"The three took the initiative and signed the requisition letter for the Rp 25 billion, which was to be disbursed to all the councillors," he said.

The cash payment was reportedly a "gift" from the West Java administration. Each of the 100 councillors received Rp 250 million, which was to be paid over three fiscal years from 2001 to 2003.

The Rp 25 billion was to compensate for a 500-meter-square plot of land that councillors were traditionally entitled to receive.

But Sudhono said the supposed gift violated Article 3 of the 1999 Anticorruption Law, which bans people from misusing their positions or authority to enrich themselves at the expense of state funds. Violators of this article may face a life sentence and a penalty of up to Rp 1 billion.

He further explained that the cash payment also breached numerous regulations on the disbursement of state funds.

Deputy council speaker Kurdi, one of the three suspects, said the cash disbursement followed the proper procedures, and that the disbursement had already passed an internal audit by the inspector general's office. Moreover, he said, the council had won last February a lawsuit filed against them by a number of non-governmental organization who demanded the money be returned. "So why call us suspects all of a sudden?"

Kurdi claims the graft case smacked of a political ploy to influence the upcoming gubernatorial election.

One of the candidates is provincial secretary Danny Setiawan, who signed the approval letter for the councillors' gift and could later be implicated in the case.

Danny was nominated by the Golkar and the PPP factions, while his rival was nominated by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) faction.

Two of the suspects come from the first two factions, while the third is from the Military and Police faction.

Kurdi has raised a question as to why council chairman Eka Santoso of the PDI Perjuangan faction, who also received the cash gift, was not named a suspect as well.

PDI Perjuangan is the only major faction contending the gubernatorial election not implicated in the graft case.

The cash contribution stirred controversy in West Java, and a consortium of non-governmental organizations in Bandung and West Java lambasted the gift and declared it a proof of collusion between the provincial administration and the council.

The so-called gift drew public attention after a number of councillors tried, but failed, to return the money. They later donated Rp 250 million each in staple foods for the poor.

Their peers, however, criticized the donation, saying it drew unnecessary attention to those who kept their share of the gift, while they tried to justify the gift at the same time.

One councillor described the cash contribution as a token of appreciation from the government, because councillors do not receive any pension funds.

Previous councillors have reportedly received a plot of land, complete with a house, from the West Java administration. Now, instead of property, the councillors receive cash.