Credibility of Indonesia's new House Speaker tainted by graft allegations

Credibility of Indonesia's new House Speaker tainted by graft allegations
Newly sworn-in Parliament elected Golkar lawmaker Setya Novanto.

JAKARTA - Overnight, Golkar Party lawmaker and newly inaugurated House of Representatives speaker Setya Novanto may have found himself becoming the most controversial figure in the history of Indonesia's legislative body.

Even before his name was officially proposed by his party to lead the House, Setya had received widespread criticism on the prospect of his leading the House because of his alleged role in various graft cases during the past several years.

He was sworn in early on Thursday as House speaker along with four deputies - Fadli Zon of the Gerindra Party, Fahri Hamzah of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), Taufik Kurniawan of the National Mandate Party (PAN) and Agus Hermanto of the Democratic Party (PD).

The criticism immediately turned into growing anxiety after the coalition of political parties supporting the losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto successfully endorsed Setya and his four deputies to secure the House leadership during a chaotic plenary meeting held between Wednesday evening and early Thursday.

Born in Bandung, West Java, 59 years ago, Setya made his name as a successful businessman long before he started his career as lawmaker in 1999. Having served as a Golkar legislator for four consecutive terms, the Golkar treasurer was appointed head of the party's House faction during the last legislative session.

In 1999, Setya was implicated in the Bank Bali scandal, which centred on the transfer of 546 billion rupiah (US$44.8 million) from that bank to PT Era Giat Prima (EGP), a company he controlled, but a court quickly acquitted him of graft charges.

The payment was described as a "commission" for EGP's assistance in helping the bank recoup 946 billion rupiah in interbank claims from closed banks that had been under the supervision of the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency.

More recently, Setya has been implicated in a number of graft cases handled by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), but his status in those cases remained as a witness, although court testimonies have confirmed his roles in those cases.

Setya, for example, was dragged into the case of former Constitutional Court chief justice Akil Mochtar, who was sentenced to life in prison for receiving bribes from a number of regional heads, after court evidence showed that Setya might have acted as financial backer of East Java Governor Soekarwo to bribe Akil in connection with the East Java gubernatorial election dispute being handled by the court in 2013.

Setya and fellow Golkar lawmaker Kahar Muzakir have also been accused of receiving 9 billion rupiah from former Riau governor Rusli Zainal to help expedite the disbursement of funds from the state budget for the Riau 2012 National Games (PON).

On Thursday, KPK chairman Abraham Samad said the antigraft body regretted Setya's appointment as House speaker, saying that he had "a potential issue with the law" that could hurt the image of the House.

He also gave assurances that the KPK did not see Setya's new role as hindering the commission from pursuing action against him, should the occasion arise.

"The KPK is concerned and deplores the election of Setya Novanto as the House speaker because he has the potential to be involved in a legal case [in the future]," he said.

"Setya's status as House speaker will not deter the KPK from continuing its investigation. There is no impunity for the House speaker position. Everyone is equal before the law."

Setya's status as of today is still as a witness, although he has been questioned several times by the antigraft body in a number of graft cases, including that of the Riau National Games (PON) case.

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