Police arrest Wahid’s masseur

JAKARTA, Indonesia, AP

Police arrested President Abdurrahman Wahid’s masseur on suspicion he masterminded a scam to steal US$4 million in state funds, police and news reports said Sunday.

Alip Agung Suwondo, 43, was arrested Saturday in Puncak, a mountain resort south of Jakarta, the official news agency Antara reported. Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Saleh Saaf confirmed the arrest but refused to give details.

Suwondo, who had been on the run for months, is the main suspect in the case, which has rocked Wahid’s year-old reformist government and has triggered an investigation by Parliament.

Suwondo’s whereabouts on Sunday were unclear. There was no word on the masseur’s reaction to the accusations.

Police allege that Suwondo convinced a senior bureaucrat to let him withdraw the money in January from a pension fund operated by the national food distribution agency, Bulog.

The scandal has shaken the confidence of investors and legislators, who now question whether Wahid’s administration can manage its affairs and fix Indonesia’s crisis-bound economy, which became riddled with corruption under former dictator Suharto.

Police believe that Suwondo, who worked as Wahid’s personal masseur, told the bureaucrat that the president wanted the cash to fund humanitarian work.

In return for the money, Suwondo allegedly promised the official that Wahid would promote him.

Wahid, who has repeatedly denied he authorized the withdrawal, has been questioned by the police about the affair, dubbed “Bulogate.”

Lawmakers recently demanded Wahid testify before a legislative committee about the incident, but the president refused, setting the scene for a possible confrontation with Parliament.