Indonesia jails former parliament speaker for 15 years for graft

JAKARTA (Reuters) - An Indonesian court on Tuesday jailed a former speaker of parliament for 15 years for his role in causing state losses of around $170 million linked to a national electronic identity card scheme.

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The case has shocked Indonesians already used to large corruption scandals, and reinforced a widely held perception that parliament, long regarded as riddled with corruption, is a failing institution.

Setya Novanto was speaker from 2014-15 and again from 2016-17.

“The defendant is found guilty of conspiring to commit corruption and is sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined 500 million rupiah,” Yanto, the head of a panel of five judges, told the Jakarta court. The fine is equivalent to $36,000.

Novanto would be barred from holding public office for five years after serving his sentence and have to repay $7.3 million he had plundered, added the judge, who goes by one name.

In a session that ran for more than three hours, judges read out dozens of case notes, including descriptions of where the former speaker held meetings to divvy up cash made from a mark-up on a contract for the identity card.

Novanto showed little emotion as the judge read the verdict.

After a quick consultation with his legal team, he told the court he would take time to consider whether to appeal against the sentence.

Novanto was accused of orchestrating a scheme to steal $173 million, or almost 40 percent of the entire budget for a government contract for the national identity card.

Prosecutors, who had questioned 80 witnesses in the case, had sought a jail term of at least 16 years.

The Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its Indonesian initials KPK, has remained one of Southeast Asia’s most effective and independent agencies, despite repeated efforts to undermine it.

IThe KPK has jailed ministers, governors, judges and other high-ranking officials and members of parliament.

“This is a warning to anybody not to act against the law,” Vice President Jusuf Kalla told Metro TV when asked to comment on the verdict.

Novanto, who had been implicated in five graft scandals since the 1990s but never convicted, was detained by KPKinvestigators in November after repeatedly missing summonses for questioning over the case, saying he needed heart surgery.

He gained a measure of international fame in September 2015 when Donald Trump, then U.S. presidential candidate, hailed him as a “great man” at a news conference in New York.

Even with successes in the fight against corruption, Indonesians have to contend with high levels of graft in many areas of their lives and the country placed 96th among 180 countries in Transparency International’s annual corruption perceptions index last year, on a par with Colombia and Thailand.

Additional reporting by Fransiska Nangoy; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Nick Macfie