Indonesia speaker denies charges

JAKARTA, Reuters

Indonesia’s parliament speaker Akbar Tandjung told a Jakarta court on Wednesday he was not perfect but fiercely denied allegations he misused some US$4 million from a state food agency that was meant for the poor.

Tandjung also accused a state prosecutor, who last week demanded he spend four years in jail over charges of abuse of power and graft, of character assassination.

“As a human I’m not perfect, but if I am alleged to have misused my power and deliberately conspired to get (the money) for personal gain as said by the prosecutors, it is not true,” Tandjung said when delivering his final defense to the Central Jakarta District Court.

“It’s not right to claim that I’m a liar…I regard the accusation to be political and a character assassination.”

Prosecutor Fachmi last week told the court Tandjung had repeatedly lied over the case and treated the money from the food agency Bulog like his own when it was channeled through the State Secretariat in 1999, which Tandjung headed at the time.

Tandjung, also chief of the former ruling but still powerful Golkar party, had faced a maximum 20 years in jail over the charges. A verdict is expected early in August.

The case is significant not only for the impact on President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s coalition government, of which Golkar is a key ally, but for the country’s legal reform efforts.

A U.N. legal expert on a 10-day fact finding mission to Jakarta earlier this month described Indonesia’s legal system as among the worst he had seen.

But United Nations special rapporteur Param Cumaraswamy also praised efforts to bring powerful individuals like Tandjung to court, saying it was indicative of efforts to implement reform.

Tandjung is one of Indonesia’s political survivors after holding jobs in three cabinets of ex-President Suharto and also during the one-year rule of former President B.J. Habibie.