JAKARTA -- An Indonesian judge on Friday threw out corruption charges against Setya Novanto, speaker of the House of Representatives and head of the country's second-largest political party, for his alleged involvement in a massive identity card scam.
Judge Cepi Iskandar of the South Jakarta District Court granted Novanto's pretrial motion, which was filed after the Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its local acronym KPK, named him as a suspect in the case in July. Iskandar said the KPK did not have concrete evidence, and that it violated its own standard operating procedures in handing down the suspect status.
The KPK investigations of Novanto are "not legally binding," the judge read out in the verdict.
The commission has alleged that during 2011 and 2012, while he headed the Golkar Party faction in the parliament, Novanto collaborated with a businessman to influence other lawmakers to unlawfully select winners for the procurement of electronic identity cards, known as e-KTP. The scam is estimated to have led to 2.3 trillion rupiah ($172 million) in state losses.
Novanto has denied the charges. He did not attend the KPK's recent summons for questioning, claiming he was ill. The authenticity of a photo of Novanto being treated in a hospital has been widely debated on social media.
As the current chairman of Golkar, Novanto has pledged his support for President Joko Widodo to run for a second term in the 2019 presidential election. The judge's ruling may provide a tailwind for Widodo.
On the other hand, Novanto's scandals have led to a decline in Golkar's popularity, observers say. Some party members have been calling for a temporary replacement while he resolves his legal issues.
KPK Deputy Chairman Laode Muhammad Syarif said he regrets the court's decision. "This is hampering investigations into the e-KTP case," he told local news portal Kompas.com. "Many parties are believed to have been involved, to have enjoyed [the] flow of funds from the e-KTP project. It is unjust to let them [walk] freely and not take legal responsibility."
Another KPK official said the anti-graft watchdog may yet restart its investigation of Novanto.