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Politics

Ex-Indonesian parliamentary speaker sentenced to 15 years for graft

High-profile ID card corruption case likely to drag in more politicians

Policemen guard former Indonesian parliamentary speaker Setya Novanto, center, as he attends a hearing at the Jakarta Anti-Corruption Court on April 24, 2018.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- Former Indonesian parliamentary speaker Setya Novanto was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Tuesday over a 2.3 trillion rupiah ($165 million) graft case that may soon implicate dozens of other politicians.

Novanto, who resigned from the House of Representatives in December following his detention, was found guilty of garnering lawmakers' support to approve the inflated 5.8 trillion rupiah price tag for the procurement of electronic identity cards -- known as e-KTP -- for the whole nation in 2011 and 2012. Novanto, also formerly chairman of Indonesia's oldest and second largest political party, the Golkar Party, headed the Golkar caucus in the house during the time of the e-KTP deliberations.

As much as 2.3 trillion rupiah from the project is believed to have been embezzled and distributed among some 100 people, half of whom were members of parliament and many still serving. Novanto himself was proven guilty of receiving $7.3 million in kickbacks from the project won by a business consortium that included his nephew, who is currently standing in a separate trial.

"The elements of profiting oneself, other people and corporates have been legally proven," judges at the Jakarta Anti-Corruption Court said while reading out the verdict on Tuesday. Novanto was also ordered to return the money he had stolen and pay a 500 million rupiah fine.

The sentence is one year less than the 16 years that was sought by prosecutors from the Corruption Eradication Commission.

Indonesia's pricey procurement process for the e-KTP, commissioned during the term of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was chaotic. It was meant to make the identification system and population census more effective, but the corrupt-ridden procurement has resulted in endless problems. There have been numerous cases of people having to wait for two years or more to get a new ID card after the old one was lost or had incorrect personal information.

Novanto made headlines last year for his outrageous attempts to evade arrest after being named a suspect in July. He was hospitalized twice, but many observers believed his illness was put on. He also filed two pre-trial motions to challenge the prosecutors' charges -- one of which he won and resulted in the annulment of his status as a suspect, before it was later reinstated.

His lawyer and a doctor who treated him are currently standing in separate trials for hindering investigations.

These factors, as well as his initial refusal to resign as parliamentary speaker and Golkar chairman, have cast a harsh light on the party, which is a member of the ruling coalition and which had continued to back him until he stood trial for the first time in December. Previously the largest member of the opposition bloc, under Novanto's leadership Golkar switched to the ruling coalition in 2016, halfway through President Joko Widodo's five-year presidency.

The charges against Novanto could finally lift the negative fog surrounding Golkar, whose current chairman, Industry Minister Airlangga Hartarto, is a potential candidate to be Widodo's running mate in his bid for re-election next year.

Some elite members of Widodo's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, among other political parties, have been named during Novanto's five-month trial as recipients of kickbacks from the e-KTP project. They have denied the allegations, but officials from the anti-corruption commission said they would investigate the politicians' alleged involvement in the case.

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