Top Indonesian politician who was hailed by Donald Trump could be declared a fugitive in US$170 million corruption case
Anti-corruption police allege a network of about 80 people used the introduction of a US$440 million electronic identity card system in 2011 and 2012 to steal more than a third of the funds
Indonesia’s anti-graft commission said on Thursday it will declare the speaker of parliament a fugitive if he does not turn himself in after being accused of involvement in the theft of US$170 million of public funds.
Investigations into the major multimillion-dollar corruption scandal in Indonesia took a surprise twist late on Wednesday with Setya Novanto, one of the country’s most high-profile politicians, apparently fleeing to avoid a warrant for his arrest. Novanto was nowhere to be found when investigators and police arrived at the politician’s private residence to arrest him.
Commission spokesman Febri Diansyah said its law enforcement team was still searching for Novanto, who was once hailed by US President Donald Trump as one of Indonesia’s most powerful men.
“We urge him to surrender,” Diansyah said via text message. “We’ll consider declaring him a fugitive if he is uncooperative.”
Anti-corruption police allege a network of about 80 people, mostly officials and legislators, and several companies used the introduction of a US$440 million electronic identity card system in 2011 and 2012 to steal more than a third of the funds.
Novanto, also chairman of the Golkar party, which is part of Indonesia’s governing coalition, has denied any wrongdoing.
A Trump admirer, Novanto made an unexpected appearance at a Trump news conference at Trump Tower in New York in September 2015 along with another Indonesian lawmaker, Fadli Zon. Novanto was introduced by Trump as one of Indonesia’s most powerful men who would do great things for the US.
Novanto’s whereabouts remain unknown. He is currently prohibited from leaving the country after a six-month travel ban was imposed in October. But speaking to reporters from outside Novanto’s south Jakarta home, his lawyer Fredrich Yunadi denied his client was on the run.
“He is not a coward, he just won’t be willingly raped,” Yunadi said on Thursday morning.
According to his lawyer, Novanto was picked up by unknown individuals after receiving a phone call late on Wednesday and has not made contact with his family or legal representation since.
Investigators arrived at Novanto’s home on Wednesday evening to find only his wife and lawyer. They left at about 2am on Thursday with several suitcases and security camera recordings from the home.
Novanto, who as head of the Golkar party is a key ally for the Joko Widodo administration, was first named a suspect in the e-identity card case in July.
He is accused of playing a central role in the embezzlement of millions allocated for the project, which dates back to 2011. The high-profile politician has repeatedly denied involvement and attempted to use legal processes to avoid prosecution.
Earlier this week, Novanto ignored a summons from the KPK, saying he was not obliged to attend without written consent from the president.
In response to another summons two days later – there have been at least 11 so far – Novanto’s lawyers sent a seven-page letter to the KPK claiming he had legal impunity because he is a high-level legislator.
KPK spokesperson Febri Diansyah said the anti-corruption body was left with little choice but to issue a warrant for his arrest.
“For investigation purposes, the KPK decided to issue an arrest warrant for SN for his alleged role in the e-ID graft case,” said Diansyah, referring to the House speaker by his initials.
“We have done everything we can to persuade him to fulfil summonses as a witness and suspect.”
The naming of Novanto as a suspect in the massive corruption scandal for a second time follows fresh evidence from the FBI, including an audio recording that allegedly implicates him in the graft case.
Additional reporting by Associated Press