Friday, 11 July 2008

Graft body unsure on charges in forest case

Graft body unsure on charges in forest case

Source: The Jakarta Post - July 09, 2008 By Andreas D. Arditya and Oyos Saroso, Jakarta, Bandarlampung

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) says it will wait to decide whether to bring charges against Forestry Ministry Malam Sambat Ka'ban, Bintan Regent Ansar Ahmad and several House lawmakers in connection with a bribery case involving a forest conversion.

KPK deputy chairman for prosecution Chandra Hamzah said Tuesday testimony and the court's verdict in an ongoing criminal trial related to the case could provide the graft body the evidence necessary to expand its investigation.

"We'll see whether evidence presented at the trial will be accepted by the court and whether we can use it to expand the case," he said.

The Corruption Court in Jakarta is currently hearing the case of suspended Bintan regional secretary Azirwan, who is charged with paying a lawmaker, Amin of the United Development Party (PPP), Rp 3 billion (US$327,000) to secure the approval of the House of Representatives to convert protected forest into an office development.

KPK investigators on Monday described for the Corruption Court Azirwan's reported links to Minister Ka'ban and lawmakers Sujud Sirajuddin of the National Mandate Party and Syarfi Hutauruk, Hilman Indra and Azwar Chesputra of the Golkar Party, and the alleged role of Regent Ansar in the bribery case.

Amin, whose trial is scheduled to start soon, and the other lawmakers are members of House Commission IV on forestry, agriculture and fisheries."The court will decide whether evidence submitted by the KPK in both (Azirwan and Amin) trials will be accepted and therefore considered as legal fact," Chandra said.

The KPK has questioned Ansar twice over the case, but has yet to question Ka'ban.On Tuesday, Ka'ban denied any connection with Azirwan, despite taped telephone conversations presented to the court in which the defendant mentions the minister's name.

In a Nov. 14, 2007, telephone conversation Azirwan is heard to say he planned to pay Rp 3 billion to the House members and Rp 1 billion to the minister. In another telephone call recorded on Jan. 30 of this year, the defendant says he is "done with the minister"."That's nonsense. I do not know nor have I met Azirwan.

I will not accept being accused of receiving Rp 1 billion," he said.Forest conversion requires the forestry minister to seek approval from House Commission IV before a ministerial decree concerning the conversion can be issued.Ka'ban said ministerial approval of the forest conversion in Bintan was legitimate and he stood by the decision.

The Bintan regency planned to convert 200 hectares out of 7,300 hectares of conservation forest into an office complex for the administration.Azirwan claimed in court that lawmaker Amin demanded money from him for the House commission's approval of the forest conversion.

Amin is also implicated in another case involving the conversion of 600 hectares of mangrove forest into a seaport in Banyuasin, South Sumatra, which the KPK says was illegal.