By: Dewi Kurniawati

Police General Budi Gunawan, the close personal friend of Megawati Sukarnoputri who was caught two years ago in a major bribery scandal, has been appointed by President Joko Widodo as the country’s new National Intelligence Agency  head, raising concerns among reform organizations over the integrity of the nomination process.

Budi, known to some as Budi the Bagman when the country’s anti-corruption agency threatened to charge him with bribery, was refused appointment as National Police chief by Jokowi, as the president is universally known, bringing to the surface tensions between him and former President Megawati, who heads the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P.  He later was appointed deputy chief.

Budi was also promoted to the rank of four-star general by presidential decree, creating another public fuss as only the National Police Chief wears four stars.  Tito Karnavian, the current chief, took the promotion lightly, claiming that despite the fact that there are now two active police generals, he and Budi work for different institutions.

The appointment and promotion are widely perceived as politically driven. The controversial general served as longtime adjutant to Megawati, who is also Jokowi’s political patron.  She has chaired the PDI-P for 20 years and has been openly dismissive of Jokowi at times.

“The promotion was probably granted as compensation because he failed to become National Police chief. If so, then it is more politically driven than a professional assessment,” Bambang Widodo Umar, an expert in the police from University of Indonesia, was quoted as saying by local media, kompas.com.

In January 2015, Joko Widodo proposed Budi Gunawan as sole candidate for the chief of the national police to replace then General Sutarman. However, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) named him a graft suspect three days after.

The KPK said that Budi had accepted bribe money from a businesswoman when he was chief of the police’s Career Development Bureau from 2004 to 2006. That was followed with a retaliatory move.  The National Police promptly named the commission’s leaders suspects in separate old cases in what many believed to be an attempt to intimidate the agency.

The police even arrested KPK deputy chief Bambang Widjojanto for alleged perjury when he was a defense lawyer. Bambang’s arrest outraged the public, including national figures who openly supported Joko Widodo during his presidential campaign.

Following a public outcry, Jokowi dropped Budi’s nomination to be the police chief. That decision reportedly sharply cooled relations between Megawati and Jokowi.

Budi was later sworn in as deputy national chief in an unusual closed-door ceremony at the National Police headquarters in South Jakarta. Former police Chief General Badrodin Haiti said his tight schedule was one of the reasons why the abrupt low-key inaugural was only attended by a handful of people.

The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) has questioned Budi’s nomination as spy chief, saying Budi’s integrity is questionable as he was once a graft suspect.

The rights group further criticized Jokowi for the nomination, saying he had again decided to name a public official without considering their track record.

In a recent cabinet reshuffle, Jokowi appointed former army chief Wiranto, who has been charged with massive human rights violations by the United Nations related to East Timor, as coordinating political, legal, and security affairs minister. He also gave the energy and mineral resources minister post to Arcandra Tahar, who shortly after his appointment was dismissed for holding US citizenship, which is banned in Indonesia.

Before being inaugurated, however, Budi passed a what a source called a “bogus” screening process by the House of Representatives Commission I overseeing security and foreign affairs. All 10 political party factions approved his sole candidacy for the position as National Intelligence Agency chief in a hearing on Sept. 7.

Budi is praised by insiders not so much for his police skills as his political acumen. “He is very smart,” said one source. “Do not underestimate him, but everything he does is about advancing his own agenda.”

Budi is also known to be close to Vice President Jusuf Kalla and the chairs of major political parties.