November 20, 2017 / 3:58 AM / a month ago

Indonesia parliament speaker taken into custody by anti-graft agency

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s parliament speaker, Setya Novanto, has been taken into custody by the anti-corruption agency after being arrested over his alleged role in causing state losses of $170 million linked to a national electronic identity card scheme.

Novanto, clad in an orange vest worn by detainees of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), was transferred from a hospital on Sunday night into a KPK detention facility.

He is one of the most senior politicians to be detained by the agency, popular among ordinary Indonesians for targeting members of the establishment suspected of abuse of power.

Novanto was arrested on Friday night but his detention was postponed while he received treatment for injuries suffered in a car crash the day before.

“Delay of the arrest is no longer needed,” as a medical statement showed Novanto did not need further hospital treatment, Laode Muhammad Syarif, the deputy head of the agency, said in a video on its official Periscope page.

On Sunday night, Novanto told reporters he was still suffering from vertigo after the crash that he said had injured a leg, an arm and his head.

“I thought I would be given time for recovery, but I obey the law,” Novanto was quoted by news website Kumparan.com as saying.

Novanto will be held for 20 days for questioning, said KPK spokesman Febri Diansyah. He will be detained in a sparsely-furnished holding cell with some mattresses and a shared toilet.

Graft agency officials tried to arrest Novanto, the chairman of Golkar, Indonesia’s second-largest party and partner in the ruling coalition, at his house in Jakarta late on Wednesday.

But they failed to find him, sparking speculation that he had gone into hiding.

Later, Novanto was involved in a car accident and his lawyer, Fredrich Yunadi, said a journalist was driving the vehicle and interviewing his client at the time.

The car crash was found to be an accident, media cited Jakarta’s deputy director of traffic police as saying, dismissing speculation that the mishap was staged.

FBI HELPING INVESTIGATION

Novanto has denied wrongdoing but has repeatedly missed summonses for questioning by the agency in recent months, saying he was ill and needed heart surgery.

The agency is investigating state losses of about $170 million after allegations that sums ranging from $5,000 to $5.5 million, generated by marking up procurement costs for the ID cards, were divided up among politicians in parliament.

Novanto was named a suspect on Nov. 10 again after he had used a controversial legal maneuver, a pre-trial motion, to get earlier charges dropped last month.

President Joko Widodo told reporters on Monday that he had asked Novanto to “follow the legal process”.

The KPK has been collaborating with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation on the case, said agency spokesman Diansyah.

The FBI has been investigating the activities of Johannes Marliem, a U.S.-based contractor for the ID card scheme, who later committed suicide in Los Angeles.

The parliament speaker’s legal battle with the graft agency has gripped Indonesia, with newspaper front pages splashing the story and social media circulating memes mocking him.

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

“Do they like me in Indonesia?” Trump asked after introducing Novanto to reporters at Trump Tower.

“Yes, highly,” Novanto replied.

Additional reporting by Kartika; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Richard Pullin and Clarence Fernandez

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