Governor Puteh Case Reaches Anticlimax

CORRUPTION investigations into Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD) Governor Abdullah Puteh over the alleged mark up of a Rostov helicopter purchased by the provincial government have entered a new phase: Anticlimax.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri ultimately decided not to address the issue of Puteh s official ‘status’ within the Aceh government. The President, taking time out from her preparations for the run-off presidential election scheduled for September 20, only ‘diverted’ the authority invested in the suspect, both in his capacity as NAD Governor and as head of the Civil Emergency Authority (PDSD).

This article published in Acehkita Magazine. The author, Teguh Santosa, is the Executive Editor for Rakyat Merdeka Daily.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigating the case that allegedly cost the state Rp4 billion in losses sent a recommendation to the President on July 9 urging that Puteh be ‘non-activated’ or suspended from official duty.

The Commission indeed possesses the power to recommend this move based on the KPK Law (No.30/2002). Article 12 (e) holds that the KPK is invested with the authority “To order the superior or leader of a suspect to temporarily suspend the suspect from their position(s).”

In addition to sending the aforementioned recommendation, the KPK under Taufiequrachman Ruki also declared in early July that it would force Puteh to comply with its summons for questioning. The KPK even went so far as to meet with the NAD and Jakarta Metropolitan Police chiefs, and the latter was asked to use force if the former head of the Indonesian National Youth Committee (KNPI) attempted to dodge the KPK summons.

Prior to this much-reported meeting, Puteh failed to honor two previous summonses and the KPK was fully within its rights to seek police assistance. Puteh claimed that he was unable to present himself for questioning due to his official duties in Aceh following the July 5 presidential election.

The KPK also said it would begin examining the personnel wealth of the former commander of a Student Regiment Unit (Menwa). Puteh reported personnel wealth of Rp13 billion in 2001 to the Wealth Audit Commission for Public Servants (Komisi Pemeriksaan Kekayaan Penyelenggara Negara: KPKPN). His bank accounts would also be blocked, the KPK said.

His travel options were also limited with the issuance of an official KPK request to the Department of Immigration to slap the Governor with a travel ban. The ban was issued one week later.

The President took some time to follow these developments up with some official action of her own. It finally came on Tuesday July 20 in the form of Presidential Instruction (Inpres) No.2/2004 titled In Support of the Efficient Implementation of the Law by the KPK and the Maintenance of the NAD Government. She therein ordered Puteh to fulfill and act in accordance with the KPK investigations.

The Inpres essentially designated authority over NAD government daily affairs to the deputy governor for the duration of the investigations. Puteh s official powers as head of the Civil Emergency Authority were divulged to ad interim Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs – and current Home Affairs Minister – Hari Sabarno. Sabarno was also instructed to appoint a representative to assume responsibility for daily affairs in this official capacity.

The Presidential Instruction did not quite live up to the public expectations sparked by statements on the Puteh issue during the live presidential debate televised in late June by the General Elections Commission (KPU).

At that time, in answering a direct question from panelist Ikrar Nusa Bhakti of the Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Mega rather casually said that she would “non-activate Puteh” if the KPK declared him a suspect in the corruption case involving the purchase of the helicopter.

The moment the statement escaped Mega s lips, many immediately doubted that she would fulfill her promise – and their doubts have been proven correct. Indeed, the President has been in the habit of issuing statements on Aceh that she has failed to honor.

Acehnese remember well the time in July 1999 when the then Vice President said she would stop the bloodshed and take care of the people of Aceh. At one point in her address to the crowd assembled at the Lenteng Agung she said with tears in her eyes: “To the people of Aceh, be patient. If I become president, Cut Nyak (‘I’ or honorific title for revered female in Acehnese- ed.) will not let one single drop of blood spill on the soil of the Veranda of Mecca (Aceh).”

Mega indeed became president two years later in July 2001 and after two years in office ordered the military to once again take control of Aceh in May 2003. Presidential Decision No.28/2003 on the Instatement of a Military Emergency in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD) was read on May 19 by then Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is himself now preparing to face Mega in the upcoming presidential election run-off.

The skeptics had more reason to be doubtful, as Mega s track record on combating corruption is also far from satisfactory. She signed Presidential Instruction No.8/2002 which covered debtors to the state – primarily former bank owners that received state funds to bail out their banks at the height of the financial crisis of the late 1990s.

This Presidential Instruction is better known as the Release and Discharge (R&D) Inpres and it absolved the debtors from criminal prosecution if they honored existing agreements on repayment.

This Inpres clearly violates corruption laws (No.31/1999 jo. 20/2001), which clearly state that the return of state losses does not absolve the party of any associated crime.

The Inpres was also deemed unconstitutional, as under constitutional law the President only possesses the authority to grant pardons, amnesties and rehabilitation. This is the extent of any president s authority over criminal law matters and may only be exercised after the case against the offender is deemed legally binding by the courts. This move to absolve debtors to the state of their responsibility for crimes may be categorized as an abuse of power.

The public was reminded just this week of the injustice inherent in the ‘R&D Inpres’ when the President ordered the cessation of investigations against one of the largest debtors to the state: corruption suspect Sjamsul Nursalim. (Nursalim’s now-defunct Bank Dagang Nasional Indonesia (BDNI) received Rp37 trillion in liquidity assistance at the height of the financial crisis. He finally repaid Rp10.1 trillion ($1.118 billion) of the allegedly misused state funds -ed.)

In Through the Back Door

NAD Governor Abdullah Puteh choose to enter via the back way when he finally faced the KPK on Wednesday July 14. He arrived at 05.30 local time – well before the questioning was scheduled to begin at 09.30.

The session lasted until 20.30 and Puteh took equal pains to avoid the media when he left the KPK offices. His bodyguards kept a tight cordon around their boss as he headed for his car. Journalists jostled in their attempt to obtain just one word from the Governor and an ANTV cameraman sustained a blow to the head from one of the minders.

Puteh arrived at the back entrance again on the second day of questioning and again refused to speak to the media but broke his silence after the questioning session, saying that he had purchased the helicopter at the center of the corruption allegations due to the worsening security situation in the province following renewed aggression by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). He was unable to carry out his gubernatorial duties and travel in safety amid the renewed violence, he said.

He also confirmed that the purchase had not undergone a tender process. He said that purchases made in an emergency situation and of “sensitive materials” could forego the tender process under Presidential Decree No. 18/2000.

Meanwhile, Puteh s legal hawks led by OC Kaligis were considering their options and threatened to challenge the KPK in a pretrial hearing. On July 19, the first session of the hearing was held at the Central Jakarta District Court.

The KPK maintained that the court had no jurisdiction over its corruption investigations and was not empowered to examine or rule on the case. “This court is not a corruption court as enshrined in Law 30/2002 on the Corruption Eradication Commission,” the KPK legal team argued.

The country’s criminal law code (KUHAP) also holds that a pretrial hearing may only consider and rule on the legality of arrests and detentions, cessation of investigations, termination of charges or demands for compensation or rehabilitation. The KPK, on the other hand, was conducting an investigation.

Puteh s council countered with claims that the investigations into their client were premature, as the Ad Hoc Anti-Corruption Court had yet to be formed. But the KPK team argued that the KPK Law clearly states that the Commission may begin its official duties one year after the issuance of the law and that the formation of the Ad Hoc Court was irrelevant.

Puteh s camp launched another attack from an entirely different legal perspective and threatened to sue the President in the State Administrative Court (PTUN) if their client was non-activated. In the end, Mega did not non-activate their client per se but rather temporarily shifted his official duties to other state authorities.

During the public dialogue ‘Abdullah Puteh, the KPK and Corruption Eradication’ – the first public seminar held by the Acehkita news website – Puteh s lawyer Eggy Sudjana invited the public to come forward with any evidence of corruption against his client. If any such evidence existed, “I will contest it… I am independent,” he said.

However, considering Mega s track record in combating corruption, it looks like Puteh is safe and that this case will steadily ‘cool down’ until it fades from prominence.

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Born in Medan, lives in Jakarta, loves Indonesia.

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