April 3, 2015 / 9:04 AM / in 2 years

Indonesia's political elite 'plotting to cripple anti-graft agency'

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo applauds as China's Premier Li Keqiang speaks during the Indonesia-China Economic Cooperation Forum at the Great Hall of the People on March 27, 2015 in Beijing, China. REUTERS/Feng Li/Pool

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s political elite have closed ranks to undermine the country’s anti-graft commission, which has already been weakened by a bitter dispute over the president’s choice for police chief, a senior official of the agency said.

Johan Budi, acting deputy chairman of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), also took a swipe at President Joko Widodo, who was elected last year amid hopes that he would confront the corruption that plagues Indonesia, for dithering over the row and allowing the commission’s work to be derailed.

“I think the KPK is now a common enemy for high-ranking politicians,” he told Reuters in an interview in his Jakarta office late on Thursday.

“I don’t know what the future holds for the KPK, but it will depend on the president and the legislature.”

Some members of parliament were pressing for the laws empowering the KPK to be watered down, he added.

The KPK is popular among ordinary Indonesians for being a thorn in the side of the establishment in a country that Transparency International’s corruption perception index ranks below China and Niger.

The attack on the KPK started in January, when the agency declared police general Budi Gunawan a corruption suspect, just days after he was named the president’s choice for police chief.

The police, the attorney general’s office and members of President Widodo’s administration sharply criticized the KPK for that decision, saying it was politically motivated.

PUBLIC OUTCRY

Gunawan is close to former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Widodo’s chief patron and head of his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P).

Widodo, widely known to Indonesians by his nickname “Jokowi”, eventually withdrew Gunawan’s candidacy in February after weeks of public outcry. But the president also suspended two KPK leaders, who were named as suspects by police in separate criminal cases, a move many saw as a compromise to appease both rival law enforcement agencies.

Dozens of KPK investigations have since stalled and fewer witnesses want to cooperate with the agency, Budi said.

“We have 36 big cases that have slowed down, including ones looking into oil and gas,” Budi said.

“Jokowi was a bit too slow and the case looked like it was hanging in the air. I think there was someone in his inner circle that made him take longer to decide on the KPK-police case.”

He said Widodo’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was quicker to defend the KPK in squabbles with the police.

Widodo’s handling of the case has led many to question the president’s determination to fight corruption and take on powerful vested interests in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

Although attacks from the police have eased, Budi said the KPK was now being targeted by lawmakers.

Parliament, which along with the police has been one of the most frequent subjects of KPK investigations, is reviewing the law governing the agency.

“The elite politicians don’t like the KPK,” Budi said. “They have long wanted to revise the law. This can be another tool to attack the KPK again.”

Additional reporting by Dennys Kapa and Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by John Chalmers and Alex Richardson

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