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Politics

Jakarta braces for political turmoil from massive corruption case

Graft-busting agency probes procurement scam involving 100 public figures

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Agus Rahardjo, chairman of Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, addresses the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club on March 15.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission is girding itself for a significant backlash after a case that could implicate dozens of lawmakers and senior officials went to court last week.

The case follows years of investigation by the anti-graft agency, commonly known as the KPK. The first hearing revealed that of 5.9 trillion rupiah ($442.5 million) allocated from the state budget for the procurement of electronic identity cards for the entire country over a three-year period from 2011, nearly half -- 2.3 trillion rupiah -- is thought to have been embezzled.

The missing money went to some 100 people allegedly involved in expediting the procurement of the e-KTP cards from a local consortium headed by businessman Andi Agustinus. A total of 34 billion rupiah allegedly went to 51 members of parliament, many of whom are still serving. They were involved in approving the project and budget during the administration of previous President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

This is the KPK's biggest case since it ran up against the national police in early 2015, when it named a top candidate for police chief as a bribery suspect. Police responded by charging the then-KPK chairman and one of his deputies with old, minor offenses, leading to their suspension. The KPK-police spat was one of the first crises faced by President Joko Widodo after he came into office, and it dented his approval rating.

The KPK has won public approval over the years for sending hundreds of corrupt officials to prison. The sheer number of prominent figures who could be involved this time makes the KPK likely to be subject to further attacks intended to weaken it. A deputy speaker has already called for a parliamentary inquiry into its activities, and lawmakers may again attempt to revise legislation and clip its wings. Revisions have been attempted several times over the past decade after the jailing of numerous lawmakers for corruption, while others remain subjects of interest to the KPK.

"We have thought about the possibilities that [the e-KTP investigation] will create a large turbulence," KPK Chairman Agus Rahardjo said on Wednesday. "But hopefully it won't be as bad as the last time -- hopefully this won't lead to the KPK being incapacitated."

Just two people are standing trial so far in the case, both formerly senior officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs who oversaw the e-KTP procurement. But the indictment read in court last week also identified former Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi and 14 lawmakers from various political parties as alleged kickback recipients. These included House Speaker Setya Novanto, predecessor Marzuki Alie, Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly and Central Java Gov. Ganjar Pranowo. All have denied involvement.

Pranowo was formerly a member of parliament for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, the current ruling party. "There are two possibilities," he told local reporters. "First, I didn't receive the money. Second, the money was given through someone but it never reached me."

The KPK was set up in 2002 as an ad hoc body to tackle chronic corruption at a time when the police and parliament were viewed as among the two most corrupt public institutions in Indonesia, which they still are. It drew strong public support, and the agency is now treated as a permanent, independent state body.

Widodo fended off efforts to revise the KPK legislation last year, according to Rahardjo. "If the president's support remains strong, hopefully the attempts will fade," he said.

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