Politically Sensitive Indonesian Trial Halts in Chaos

The long-awaited and politically sensitive trial of Muhammad Nazaruddin, the former treasurer of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party, got off to a riotous start Wednesday. It was halted prematurely when Nazaruddin and his lawyers objected to all of the facts delivered by the prosecution and accused them of using “telepathy” to make up the bribery case against him.

The trial was adjourned for two weeks after Nazaruddin’s lawyers demanded to see interrogation reports compiled by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and filed motions to have the charges dismissed.

Nazaruddin is at the epicenter of charges that he accepted at least Rp4.3 billion (US$480,000) in bribes to rig a government tender for the construction of the athletes’ village in Palembang in southern Sumatra for the now-concluded Southeast Asian Games, which ended Nov. 24. He is being represented by five prominent lawyers including one of Indonesia’s most politically prominent and flamboyant attorneys, Hotman Paris Hutapea.

Despite the fact that while he was on the run for four months across the globe, tweeting and texting reporters credible allegations of the involvement of top Democratic Party officials in the scandal, skeptics say it is questionable whether this trial, like many before it, will end by fizzling out into a quick conviction and a relatively short prison sentence.

Earlier this month, Abubakar Al Habsyi, a lawmaker from the Prosperous Justice Party, was quoted in local media as saying it was unlikely that the case is likely ever to be resolved because it threatens so many powerful officials.

“I think Nazaruddin’s case touches on many important figures, so I am pessimistic that this case will ever be settled,” Abubakar told reporters, amid reports that a company owned by the former treasurer had paid hundreds of millions of rupiah in bribes to several police officials between 2006 and 2008, and that he had close ties to Gen. Timur Pradopo, the National Police Chief. Other high-profile defendants in other cases have disappeared into prison only to be discovered later in much more comfortable circumstances on various kinds of passes or via bribes, not only out of jail but occasionally out of the country.

In Wednesday’s action in the anti-corruption court, Nazaruddin argued that investigators had never asked him about allegations he accepted five checks worth Rp4.675 billion from Muhammad El-Idris, the former marketing manager of the Duta Graha Indah construction company, via his staff members Yuliani and Oktarina Furi. Allegedly the payments were “commitment fees” to ensure that Duta Graha won the tender for the SEA Games in Palembang, it was alleged. Three other people have been named suspects. They are Muhammad El Idris, Mindo Rosalina Manullang and Youth and Sport Ministry secretary Wafid Muharram.

“Was the investigator using telepathy, or probably there is another sophisticated way used by the KPK investigator?” Nazaruddin said during the hearing. Nazaruddin said he was never questioned about the meeting or receiving checks, let alone the amount received.

The former party treasurer and legislator fled Indonesia almost immediately after a meeting with the president in May, allegedly warned by top party officials that the KPK was out to lift his travel documents. In court Wednesday, he acknowledged that he had met with Yudhoyono, saying that: “On May 23, I was summoned to Cikeas (the president’s home) by SBY and the Democratic Party’s board members, and then I left for Singapore.”

He was eventually found in Cartagena, a resort city on the coast of Colombia, and returned to Jakarta. Not long after that, his lawyer made public a letter to the president in which Nazaruddin in effect said he would shut up about crimes committed by his fellow Democrats if Yudhoyono would guarantee the safety of his family, leading to the obvious conclusion that the party’s leaders in fact are culpable in as-yet-undisclosed offenses.

Those who look most culpable – if in fact the KPK were able to follow all of the leads -- are the young reformers that Yudhoyono brought into power with him, particularly the party chairman, Anas Urbaningrum, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Marzuki Alie, and the Youth and Sports Minister, Andi Mallarangeng.

From his various locations, Nazaruddin supplied journalists with a list of specific allegations against Urbaningrum and other top party members before he was arrested on orders from Interpol. The Colombians immediately agreed to his extradition. But instead of putting the former treasurer on a commercial flight with an escort back to Jakarta, the Indonesians chartered a 12-passenger Gulfstream executive jet hired for the equivalent of US$470,000. The delegation sent to pick him up included a flock of law enforcement officials from agencies whose honesty has long been questioned.

The aircraft finally landed in Jakarta 17 hours after its scheduled arrival on Aug. 13 after stopping six times in such places as Senegal and Congo despite the fact that the plane’s 17,000 km range meant it could easily have made it back in one or two hops. It is a mystery what took place during those six stops.