November 16, 2017 / 10:09 AM / a month ago

Indonesian parliament speaker not hiding from graft probe: lawyer

JAKARTA (Reuters) - A lawyer for Indonesia’s parliament speaker denied on Thursday that the politician had gone into hiding to avoid being questioned by an anti-corruption agency over a $170 million graft investigation and said his client had a busy schedule.

Officers from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) sought to arrest speaker Setya Novanto at his house in Jakarta late on Wednesday, but failed to find him, sparking speculation about his whereabouts.

“He is not hiding,” Novanto’s lawyer, Fredrich Yunadi, told Reuters by telephone.

“He is very busy, invited to many events and such. If he hears of violations of any law, he will discuss it with other officials,” said Yunadi.

Novanto, who is chairman of Indonesia’s second-biggest political party, Golkar, was still in Jakarta, he added.

Novanto was not available for comment. He has previously denied wrongdoing but has missed repeated KPK summons for questioning in recent months, saying he was ill and needed to undergo heart surgery.

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

Because of the alleged embezzlement, millions of people have faced long delays in getting cards, or have been issued pieces of paper in place of a proper cards.

Novanto was named a suspect in the case again last week after he had used a controversial legal maneuver, a pre-trial motion, to get earlier charges dropped last month.

Yunadi said on Thursday his client had been summoned by the KPK 11 times as a witness and as a suspect in the investigation.

“We will file another pre-trial motion, but it is still to be decided when,” said Yunadi

Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who is also a Golkar member, told reporters Novanto should be ready to face any legal process if called upon.

Officials at the anti-graft agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A KPK spokesman Febri Diansyah was quoted in Kompas newspaper as saying the commission had a warrant for Novanto’s arrest and called on him to surrender.

Novanto has for years been dogged by allegations of corruption, but has never been prosecuted.

In late 2015, a parliament ethics committee launched an investigation into allegations by a Freeport Indonesia executive that Novanto had tried to extort $1.8 billion worth of shares from the local unit of the U.S. mining company.

Novanto denied the allegations but stepped down temporarily. He was reappointed as speaker a year later, after being cleared by an ethics panel.

Indonesians widely perceive parliament as one of their country’s most corrupt institutions, Transparency International says.

Additional reporting by Kartika; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Robert Birsel

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