By Fergus Jensen
JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian anti-graft investigators have put the speaker of parliament, who they have identified as a suspect in a $170 million corruption case, under armed guard in hospital after he was involved in a car accident, his lawyer said on Friday.
Officers from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) tried to arrest Setya 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 the investigators, watched by television cameras, failed to find him, sparking speculation that he had gone into hiding.
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 procurement costs – were divided up among politicians in parliament.
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.
He has denied wrongdoing but has repeatedly missed summonses from the KPK for questioning in recent months, saying he was ill and needed to undergo heart surgery.
Late on Thursday, reports emerged that Novanto was involved in a car accident while on his way to turn himself in at KPK headquarters.
Novanto’s lawyer, Fredrich Yunadi, said a journalist was driving the vehicle and interviewing his client at the time of the accident.
“(The driver) was looking back and looking to the side, so he wasn’t concentrating on what was in front of him,” Yunadi said.
Novanto was now “very ill” with head and hand injuries, Yunadi said.
“He can’t even get up yet. He can’t talk yet, it’s just his eyes – when he opens his eyes the ceiling swirls in circles.”
The lawyer said armed KPK officers were guarding Novanto and had ignored requests to leave.
Novanto was taken to a second hospital on Friday for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, media reported.
Novanto gained a measure of international fame in September 2015 when then U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump hailed the Indonesian politician as a “great man” during a news conference.
“Do they like me in Indonesia?” Trump asked after introducing Novanto to reporters at Trump Tower.
“Yes, highly,” Novanto replied.
‘FACE LEGAL PROCESS’
Indonesian newspapers splashed pictures across their front pages of a black sport utility vehicle that Novanto was said to have been traveling in.
It was resting against an electricity pole, and appeared to have suffered only minor damage to the front fender.
Febri Diansyah, a KPK spokesman, said on Thursday the crash happened shortly after the agency had asked the national police chief and Interpol to place Novanto on a wanted list.
The KPK would liaise with doctors to see if Novanto was “fit to stand trial” and would continue its investigation, Febri told Inews TV.
Yunadi has said a request for another pre-trial motion had been filed on behalf of his client.
President Joko Widodo on Friday urged Novanto, a political ally, to “follow the legal process”. Previously, Widodo has backed the KPK against efforts by some members of parliament to weaken the independent agency’s powers.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who is also a Golkar member, told reporters on Thursday Novanto should be ready to face any legal process if called upon.
Indonesians widely perceive parliament as one of their country’s most corrupt institutions, Transparency International says.
(Additional reporting by Augstinus Beo Da Costa and Kartika; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Robert Birsel)