Suspected of graft, Indonesian parliament speaker put under guard in hospital

JAKARTA - Named as a suspect in a $170 million (S$230 million) corruption case, the speaker of Indonesia's parliament was put under armed guard at a hospital by anti-graft investigators after he was involved in a car accident, his lawyer said on Friday.

Officers from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) first tried to arrest Setya Novanto, the chairman of Golkar, Indonesia's second-largest party and partner in the ruling coalition, at his house in Jakarta late on Wednesday.

The swoop, watched by television cameras, failed to find Novanto, sparking speculation that he had gone into hiding.

On Thursday evening, the saga took a bizarre twist after reports Novanto was involved in a car crash while on his way to turn himself in at KPK headquarters.

Novanto's lawyer, Fredrich Yunadi, said his client was being interviewed at the time of the accident by a journalist driving the vehicle.

"(The driver) was looking back and looking to the side, so he wasn't concentrating on what was in front of him," he said.

Novanto was now "very ill" with head and hand injuries, Yunadi said.

"He can't even get up yet. He can't talk yet, it's just his eyes - when he opens his eyes the ceiling swirls in circles." Armed KPK officers were now at the hospital, Yunadi said, adding that they had ignored his requests to leave.

Indonesian newspapers on Friday splashed pictures across their front pages of the black sport utility vehicle that Novanto was said to have been travelling in. It was resting against an electricity pole, and appeared to have suffered only minor damage to the front fender.

Novanto has previously denied wrongdoing, but has repeatedly missed summonses from the KPK for questioning in recent months, saying he was ill and needed to undergo heart surgery.

The KPK is investigating state losses amounting to about $170 million linked to a national electronic identity card (E-KTP) scheme after allegations that sums ranging from $5,000 to $5.5 million - generated by marking up procurement costs- were divided up among politicians in parliament.

Novanto was named a suspect in the case again last week after he had used a controversial legal manoeuvre, a pre-trial motion, to get earlier charges dropped last month.

Febri Diansyah, a KPK spokesman, said on Thursday that Novanto's car crash happened shortly after it had asked the Indonesian police chief and Interpol to place him on a wanted list.

The KPK, Febri told Inews TV, would liaise with doctors to see if Novanto was "fit to stand trial" and vowed to continue its investigations into the case.

Yunadi has said a request for another pre-trial motion had already been filed on behalf of his client.

President Joko Widodo has said that the legal process should be followed and has backed the KPK against efforts by some members of parliament to weaken the independent agency's powers.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who is also a Golkar member, told reporters on Thursday that Novanto should be ready to face any legal process if called upon.

Allegations of corruptions have dogged Novanto for years, but he has never been prosecuted.

Indonesians widely perceive parliament as one of their country's most corrupt institutions, Transparency International says.