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Disbelief as Indonesia’s ‘most wanted’ politician in hospital after late-night car crash

Setya Novanto has for months been using every political, medical and legal manoeuvre available to avoid questioning after being named a suspect in the theft of US$170 million of public money

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 November, 2017, 3:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 November, 2017, 11:11pm

The speaker of Indonesia’s parliament, implicated in a US$170 million corruption case, was in hospital on Friday after a bizarre drama in which he claimed to have been injured in a car crash soon after a failed raid on his palatial estate.

The story has dominated headlines and news broadcasts this week in the southeast Asian nation, where images showed a grim-faced Setya Novanto ling in a Jakarta hospital bed with medical tubes in his nose. Another showed what was said to be his black car with its dented grill resting against a power pole.

Critics lashed out at Novanto, accusing him of trying to dodge anti-corruption officials who want to question him in one of Indonesia’s worst graft scandals.

“These kinds of actions will make people question everything – how can a leader have such little dignity?” said Jusuf Kalla, the country’s vice-president and a member of Golkar, Indonesia’s second-biggest political party, which is headed by Novanto. “Leaders have to obey the law and be trusted by people. If they run away like this, how can they be trusted?”

Some Indonesians are sceptical, calling the crash Novanto’s most outrageous move yet to stymie the investigation and comparing it to a plot twist in a sopa opera on local television.

“Setya Novanto and his team of lawyers must think we Indonesians are all fools,” said Rina Amelia, a 29-year-old barista at a Jakarta cafe. “This accident? Seriously?”

Mocking memes on social media using a hashtag that translates as “Save the power pole” quickly went viral.

Some predicted that the next twist in the drama would be Novanto claiming to have lost his memory and therefore unable to answer any questions about the corruption allegations.

“Sit back and grab your popcorn, this ain’t over yet,” said Twitter user Veronica Koman.

On Wednesday night, officials from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) raided Novanto’s multimillion-dollar estate in a ritzy part of the capital.

But Novanto was nowhere to be found, sparking a frantic citywide search amid fears he had left the country.

The 62-year-old politician was put on Indonesia’s most-wanted list before he reappeared in hospital on Thursday following what he claimed was a car crash, though he showed no sign of serious injuries.

Authorities want to question him over allegations he and other politicians siphoned millions of dollars in public funds linked to a state project that issued new ID cards to Indonesia’s 255 million residents.

The allegations earlier this year caused widespread shock.

Novanto’s lawyer insisted on Friday his client was not trying to dodge questions, saying he was “very, very weak” and feared he would be treated unfairly by the powerful anti-corruption body.

“He doesn’t want to be persecuted,” Fredrich Yunadi said. “He has a right to be treated according to the law.”

Novanto has faced corruption allegations before, including a case in which he was recorded trying to extort money from the local unit of Freeport-McMoRan in exchange for extending the US-based miner’s right to operate in the country. He has never been prosecuted.

Two years ago, Novanto appeared at a news conference at Donald Trump’s eponymous Manhattan skyscraper, where the now US president described him as an “amazing man” who would do “great things for the United States”.

Additional reporting by Associated Press, Reuters