Ex Indonesian Politician Indicted for Graft, Claims Illness

Published: 15 December 2017

NovantoFormer Parliament Speaker Novanto (Photo: Indonesian People's Representative Council)

By Sinead Carolan

Indonesian prosecutors charged former parliament speaker Setya Novanto on Wednesday with stealing US$ 170 million of public money, according to Reuters.

Novanto, the chairman of the Golkar party, which is part of Indonesia's ruling coalition, resigned as speaker of parliament earlier this week, Deutsche Welle reports.

According to Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) - the agency that arrested Novanto - more than 80 people, mostly lawmakers and parliamentary officials, participated in a graft scheme from 2011 to 2012, stealing money that had been allocated for creating electronic national identity cards. Novanto has continued to deny any wrongdoing.

According to The Straits Times, the charges Novanto has been indicted for include using overseas banks to hide the graft. At one point, he apparently received a designer watch worth approximately $135,000 in return for ensuring that the electronic identity card project would be approved by Parliament.

Novanto’s arrest and trial have been complicated by injuries and illness, perhaps both real and invented. According to Reuters he repeatedly missed summonses for questioning by the KPK in recent months, saying he needed heart surgery.

According to the Associated Press, his court appearance was delayed after Novanto refused to respond to questions from judges, finally excusing himself by announcing, "I am suffering diarrhea, I asked for drugs but they were not given."

Prosecutors responded that doctors had examined Novanto immediately prior to the start of the trial, declaring him fit. Novanto’s lawyer Maqdir Ismail declared that he was too ill to face the proceedings.

On November 17, Deutsche Welle reported that Novanto had been hospitalized for injuries sustained during a car accident. Officials had attempted to arrest Novanto at his house in Jakarta the day before, but found the residence empty.

KPK declared him a wanted person the day of the accident. Accusations that Novanto was using the crash “as an elaborate stunt to avoid arrest” flourished on social media, and many Indonesians were unconvinced by Novanto’s lawyer’s statements about the severity of his injuries.

KPK investigators put Novanto under armed guard in hospital and then took him into custody.

In October Novanto used a pretrial motion, considered a controversial legal move, in a failed attempt to get the charges against him dropped.

Novanto is one of the most senior politicians in Indonesia to be detained by the KPK.