Former state-owned enterprises minister Dahlan Iskan, center, succeeded in getting his suspect status in a corruption case revoked through a pretrial motion. (Antara Photo/Yudhi Mahatma)

Political Payback or Dahlan a Victim of Own 'Creativity'?

JUNE 07, 2015

Jakarta. Allegations of political motives overshadow prosecutors' recent naming of former State Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan as a corruption suspect, many of whose supporters believe him to be innocent while Dahlan himself said he had been aware he might be facing graft charges.

Dahlan was declared a suspect on Friday over accusations of irregular construction of 21 power transformers worth Rp 1 trillion ($74 million) by state utility firm Perusahaan Listrik Nagara (PLN) —  a project planned since 2009, when he served as president director of the company, to ensure that Indonesia had a plentiful supply of electricity as the nation's economy continued to grow.

The project was worked on from 2011 to 2013, when he was appointed as state enterprise minister during former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's second term in office.

The Jakarta Prosecutors Office, which has been investigating the case and has named 15 other people as suspects, said two of the transformers were later found to be malfunctioning and 13 others were found to be broken. The Jakarta office of the State Finance and  Development Comptroller (BPKP) has said that the case is estimated to cost the state Rp 33.2 billion.

Suspicion has arisen, however, that Dahlan being named as a suspect was politically motivated. The media mogul, after all, has been widely viewed as a populist and clean authoritative figure, which was believed to have been among the reasons why Yudhoyono appointed him to lead PLN.

Dahlan is the owner of the Jawa Post media group, one of the country's leading publication firms that is based in Surabaya.

Dozens of his supporters staged a rally at Bungkul Park in the East Java capital on Sunday, gathering signatures on a white banner that organizers said were aimed at providing “moral support” for the media mogul.

Ita Nasyi'ah, an initiator on Twitter of the #SaveDahlanIskan movement, said the group was aiming to collect as many as 10 million signatures from across Indonesia.

“We're targeting to break the Muri records with these signatures,” Ita said, referring to the Indonesian version of the Guinness World Records.

Hundreds of visitors at the park were seen signing the banner, Indonesian news portal reported.

Ita said similar activities would be held in other big cities in Indonesia, including in the national capital Jakarta.

“Nobody told us to do this. This is a spontaneous action,” she said.

Not everyone thinks Dahlan is innocent, though. A man who refused to sign the banner said, “I don't want to give my signature. Dahlan is a corruptor. Why should we support him?”

The executive director of the Civic Circle for Indonesia (LIMA), Ray Rangkuti, is among those who believe that a political motive is behind the prosecutors' move to charge Dahlan.

He said the Attorney General's Office was probably targeting officials under Yudhoyono's regime so that the former president would tone down his criticism against the current government's policies. The AGO is led by Attorney General H.M. Prasetyo, whose appointment by President Joko Widodo sparked criticism because Prasetyo was affiliated with the National Democrats (Nasdem), a member of the ruling party coalition.

Antigraft activists have expressed concerns that Prasetyo's appointment would politicize the AGO.

“I've seen [signs of Yudhoyono's regime being targeted] since the arrest of former Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Jero Wacik, the citing of Ibas's name in Sutan Bhatoegana's case, and now Dahlan Iskan's naming as a suspect,” Ray said.

All the names that Ray mentioned — except for Dahlan — are politicians within Yudhoyono's Democratic Party. Ibas is a nickname of the former president's youngest son, Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono. “These are strong signals for SBY [Yudhoyono] ... so that he wouldn't give the current regime too many problems,” he added.

Aleksius Jemadu, a political observer with Pelita Harapan University (UPH), offered another theory as to why Joko's administration seems to be targeting Yudhoyono administration officials.

“They may try to corner the old regime to cover the flaws of the current government ... to divert people's attention from criticizing [Joko's administration's policies], to cases involving the old regime,” Aleksius said.

He added that he didn't believe Dahlan to have stolen the public's money, although there was a possibility that Dahlan had been guilty of negligence, which cost the state billions of rupiah.

“Why is the AGO coming after his [Dahlan's] case before other cases? There may be indeed [intentional attempts] to corner SBY's people, although we need more evidence to prove that suspicion,” Aleksius said.

Lawmaker Nasir Djamil, though, dismisses the political motive allegation, saying there was indeed potential for corruption in the construction of power transformers for Java, Bali and Nusa Tenggara.

“Prosecutors don't play political games. Otherwise they shouldn't be called a law-enforcement institution. The case indeed needs to be scrutinized,” said Nasir, a politician with the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), which is both a member of the current opposition bloc and a member of the ruling coalition during Yudhoyono's era.

House of Representatives deputy speaker Fahri Hamzah, meanwhile, said Dahlan's status as a suspect was proof of flaws in Indonesia's antigraft laws, which he said failed to recognize “creativity” of people trying to bypass complicated and often corrupt bureaucracy to make sure that development projects proceeded as planned.

“I suspect that Dahlan was named suspect because he's a creative person, and the anti-corruption law isn't friendly with creative people. That is why I've been criticizing the KPK [Corruption Eradication Commission], part of my criticism against the law, which is now also used by the AGO,” added Fahri, also from PKS.

In a written statement issued on Friday, Dahlan admitted that he had broken many laws to ensure the execution of power transformer project, adding it was necessary.

He said the power transformers were needed to be built right away to supply electricity to Java, Bali and Nusa Tenggara islands.

“I told investigators that I couldn't stand people's complaints about the electricity [supply] situation at that time. I even declared several times that I was ready to go to jail if I had to,” Dahlan said.

He added, though, that he was ready to undergo the legal process.

“I'm taking the responsibility because all of those projects were indeed under my responsibility,” Dahlan said, adding he would scrutinize all relevant documents concerning the case.

Further coverage

Editorial: AGO Needs to Prove Being Above Politics