Indonesian ex-MP gets 16 years for corruption

Indonesian ex-MP gets 16 years for corruption
Ex-MP and former PKS chairman Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq speaking to reporters after his arrest in January.

JAKARTA - The former chairman of Indonesia's largest Islamist party has been sentenced to 16 years in jail and fined one billion rupiah for receiving 1.3 billion rupiah (S$130,000) in bribes and for money laundering.

Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq, 52, of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), was caught red-handed receiving bribes in January in return for his role in influencing a decision to increase the government quota in beef imports to a company.

The case has soiled the image of Muslim-based parties in Indonesia and dented their chances ahead of national elections next year as popularity polls showed them faring poorly.

Judge Gusrizal Lubis told a packed courtroom Monday: "His bank assets are not proportionate to what you expect of a person earning that sum as a politician, so this raises considerable suspicion and we are not satisfied by the defence."

Luthfi, clad in a white shirt and black trousers, looked sombre as he sat slumped in his seat, listening intently as the judge read out the sentence after a reading of the case that started at 6pm. He has denied the charges. In his mitigation submitted last Wednesday, he blamed his close aide Ahmad Fathanah for exploiting him to obtain money from beef importer Indoguna Utama director Elizabeth Liman, also a suspect in the case. Ahmad Fathanah was jailed 14 years for his role in soliciting for 40 billion rupiah in bribes from Indoguna Utama.

PKS senior leader Hidayat Nur Wahid accused the court of deliberately timing the sentencing to coincide with Anti-Corruption Day, when the mitigation was already read out last week.

He said: "That means the judges have had two days to work on getting a sentence, Thursday and Friday. Is it really true that his mitigation is being thoroughly considered? Or maybe the judges have readied the sentence earlier but wanted to issue it today, World Anti-Corruption Day?"

What is clear, however, is that the public has been disillusioned by the graft scandal. "Islamic political parties, especially the PKS, built their image proclaiming that they are pious and clean, so you can imagine this image has been shattered now with this case," said Indikator Politik Indonesia director Burhanudin Muhtadi.

He added that the party had garnered 7.8 per cent of electoral votes in the 2009 elections, but predicted it will struggle to score above 3 per cent in next year's polls. He said the dip in popularity of Islamist parties is part of a wider trend of Indonesians losing their trust in political parties, particularly after several ruling Democratic Party cadres were found guilty of graft this year.

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