Indonesian parliament speaker again named suspect in massive graft case

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 10, 2017 7:10 AM

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's speaker of parliament was on Friday named again as a suspect in a huge embezzlement case involving electronic identity cards that caused state losses of more than $170 million.

This is the second time the national Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has named Setya Novanto a suspect in the case, after he used a controversial legal maneuver to get earlier charges dropped last month.

"He is suspected of illegally enriching himself...and causing state losses in the procurement of electronic ID cards," KPK spokesman Febri Diansyah said in a statement.

"We have new evidence," he said, declining to elaborate because authorities were still investigating.

A lawyer for Novanto could not immediately be reached for comment. Novanto has previously denied wrongdoing.

The KPK has been investigating allegations that sums ranging from $5,000 to $5.5 million - money generated by marking up the costs of procuring the identity cards - were divided up among politicians in a room in parliament.

Millions of Indonesians have been left unable to get a proper identity card or have faced long delays as a result of the alleged embezzlement. Many have been issued pieces of paper in place of the cards.

Novanto missed repeated KPK summons for questioning in recent months, saying he was ill and needed to undergo heart surgery.

Memes and jokes about Novanto went viral on Indonesian social media, as netizens heaped scorn on what they saw as an attempt to escape accountability.

Novanto has for years been dogged by allegations of corruption, but never been prosecuted.

In late 2015, parliament’s ethics committee launched a probe into allegations by a Freeport Indonesia executive that Novanto had tried to extort $1.8 billion worth of shares from the local unit of the U.S. mining company.

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Novanto denied the allegations but stepped down temporarily. He was reappointed as speaker a year later, after being cleared by the ethics panel.

Indonesians widely perceive parliament to be one of their country's most corrupt institutions, Transparency International says.

MPs have consistently tried to curb some of the graft agency's investigative powers, but the KPK has remained independent and highly popular with the Indonesian public.

(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by XX)