Indonesia's corruption commission charges Riau governor in land conversion case

JAKARTA/PEKANBARU - After hours of questioning, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has named Riau Governor Annas Maamun and palm-oil businessman Gulat Manurung graft suspects.

KPK chairman Abraham Samad said on Friday that after questioning, the anti-graft agency's investigators had found preliminary evidence to name both men suspects in a case related to bribery for the issuance of land-conversion permits.

"Based on the evidence and statements from witnesses, the KPK leaders agreed to name both men suspects," Abraham told reporters in the KPK office in Jakarta.

He added that during the operation, the KPK had also confiscated S$156,000 (US$122,450) and Rp 500 million (US$55,000), which allegedly was to be given by Gulat, who was also chairman of the Indonesian Oil Palm Farmers Association (Apkasindo) Riau chapter, to Annas.

The money was allegedly given to the governor so he would issue a land-conversion permit for Gulat's oil palm plantation business.

"We have also seized US$30,000 from the house, but Annas said that it was his money and it had nothing to do with the crime," Abraham said, adding that the KPK would investigate Annas' statement.

Meanwhile, KPK deputy chairman Bambang Widjajanto explained that Gulat had a 140-hectare oil palm plantation in Kuantan Singingi regency in Riau, which had been planted in an industrial forest area (HTI).

Gulat then asked for the governor's help to convert the area into a non-forest area, or area for other use (APL).

"As well as for the land-conversion permit, we suspect money was also given to the governor to facilitate Gulat's future projects in Riau, but we will check that," Bambang said.

On Thursday night, KPK investigators arrested Annas, Gulat and seven other people, including the governor's wife, driver and adjutant, at Annas house in the CitraGran housing complex in Cibubur, East Jakarta.

Abraham said that the other seven people caught during the operation would be released by the KPK as it had not found any involvement and did not have any criminal charge that could be used against them.

He added that the KPK would charge Annas under Article 12 or Article 11 of the 1999 Corruption Law, as a state official who accepted bribes, while Gulat would be charged under Article 5 paragraph 1 or Article 13 of the law for his role as the person giving the bribe.

Annas is the third consecutive Riau governor implicated in a graft case. The previous two governors, Rusli Zainal and Saleh Djasit, have already been sentenced in separate graft cases.

Rusli was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for his role in the Pelalawan forestry permit and Riau National Games graft cases, while Saleh got four years for his involvement in the procurement of fire-fighting vehicles.

Meanwhile, activists from the University Students Executive Bodies (BEM) across Riau greeted Annas' arrest with a rally expressing support for the KPK to thoroughly handle the corrupt practices they considered were rooted in the province.

"What the governor did reflects the corrupt mentality of Riau administration officials. Hopefully the KPK will be able to name the Riau governor a suspect soon," the rally's coordinator, Yopi, said.

"It's regrettable that he (Annas) could not be trusted and forgot his campaign promises. He has only been in office for seven months," said Yopi, adding that they would demand his resignation once the KPK named him a suspect.