Indonesia corruption court indicts ex-parliament speaker after delays

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian prosecutors charged a former parliament speaker on Wednesday in connection with a $170 million graft scandal after he held up proceedings for hours at the opening of his trial, saying he was ill.

Setya Novanto has been brought to trial by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which suspects extensive pilfering of public funds linked to a national identity card program.

Novanto, who resigned as speaker of parliament this week, has denied wrongdoing.

He had managed to cling to power through several previous corruption cases and repeatedly missed summonses for questioning by the anti-graft agency in connection with this case in recent months, saying he needed heart surgery.

Novanto, who arrived at court in a white shirt and a bright orange jacket usually worn by the KPK’s graft suspects, said he had diarrhea and needed medical attention.

Prosecutors from the KPK said he was lying and that doctors had given him a clean bill of health earlier on Wednesday.

He declined to confirm to the court details like his name or place of birth.

After long delays to allow doctors to examine Novanto, the presiding judge at the Jakarta corruption court let prosecutors read out the charges, which included unlawful intervention in the procurement process of the ID cards.

“We are sure the defendant is healthy and can follow the court proceedings. This is part of the defendant’s lies,” prosecutor Irene Putri said as defense lawyers called for more medical examinations for their client.

The KPK is investigating state losses amounting to about $170 million linked to the national electronic identity card scheme after allegations that sums ranging from $5,000 to $5.5 million - generated by marking up procurement costs - were divided up among politicians in parliament.

KPK investigators last month put Novanto under armed guard in hospital and then took him into custody.

Novanto’s case has riveted the media and captured the attention of social media users, many of whom have mocked him in widely shared posts.

The allegations against Novanto have reinforced the perception among Indonesians that their parliament, long regarded as riddled with entrenched corruption, is a failing institution.

Indonesia was ranked last year at 90 out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perception index.

The watchdog has singled out parliament as Indonesia’s most corrupt institution, and in July called on President Joko Widodo to protect the KPK against attempts by the legislature to weaken the commission’s powers.

Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Robert Birsel