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Scandal-prone Indonesian speaker Setya Novanto named as embezzlement suspect
Sydney Morning Herald - July 18, 2017
Mr Novanto was reappointed as speaker last November despite accusations he had tried to extort $US1.8 billion ($2.3 billion) in shares from the local subsidiary of US mining giant Freeport-McMoRan in exchange for lobbying to extend its contract at a copper and gold mine in Papua.
He denied the allegations, the constitutional court ruled in his favour and he was cleared by parliament's ethics panel.
But on Monday the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) named Mr Novanto as a suspect over his role in the alleged embezzlement of $US173 million from the budget of a national electronic ID card program known as e-KTP.
Mr Novanto said he was shocked by the KPK's decision to name him a suspect and that he had never received the alleged sum.
"That amount of money is huge. How was it transferred? How did I take it? So I beg of you, don't continue with this injustice. I have tried along with other members of parliament to serve my country to the best of my ability."
The latest furore could impact on Indonesian President Joko Widodo's bid for re-election in 2019, given Mr Novanto is the chairman of the Golkar Party, the second-largest party in the ruling coalition.
Soon after he was elected chairman, Mr Novanto said the party would back Mr Joko in the 2019 presidential elections despite supporting his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, in 2014.
Mr Novanto made a bizarre appearance at a press conference in Trump Tower during Donald Trump's election campaign, with Mr Trump describing him as "one of the powerful men and a great man". Mr Trump asked him "Do they like me in Indonesia?" to which Mr Novanto replied: "Yes, highly."
Political analyst Kevin O'Rourke said the e-KTP case was the first in which Mr Novanto had become a suspect in a case investigated by the KPK, so he believed it would result in a conviction.
Since its inception in 2003, the highly respected KPK has had an almost 100 per cent conviction rate. "Novanto... was a central figure in the major 1999 Bank Bali scandal, but that occurred prior to the KPK's formation," Mr O'Rourke said.
"There was a budgeting kickback case that the KPK investigated, but did not pursue; Novanto did not become a suspect. The 2015 Freeport Tape Scandal involved devastating reputational damage, but as a case of perpetrating clear acts of corruption it was weak, so the KPK did not handle it."
Associate Professor Marcus Mietzner from the Australian National University said Mr Novanto's only chance at this point would be a pretrial challenge against his indictment, which is heard by a single judge. "If that is thrown out, and the case does go to trial, his conviction is almost a certainty," he said.
Indonesian Corruption Watch researcher Donal Fariz said Mr Novanto should be immediately replaced as house speaker and chairman of Golkar.
"This is important to test how clean the Golkar Party is, given corruption has implicated some of their cadres, including their own chairman," he said. "They must show the public whose side they are on. People are waiting for Golkar's move. It will show how clean and mature the party is."