Friday, 22 August 2008

Bintan official under threat to bribe: Defense

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bintan official under threat to bribe: Defense

Irawaty Wardany , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta Fri, 08/22/2008

Suspended Bintan administration secretary Azirwan, on trial for graft in a forest conversion scheme, on Thursday claimed he had been under pressure to commit bribery.

Azirwan told the Corruption Court that House of Representatives legislator Al Amin Nasution demanded the money, threatening the planned conversion would not be approved by the House's Commission IV, which oversees forestry, and of which Al Amin was a member.

Thursday's hearing was the last before the panel of judges delivers its verdict in two weeks.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) alleges Azirwan gave Rp 2.2 billion (US$242,000) to Al Amin to expedite the issuance of a permit to convert a protected forest on Bintan Island into an office complex construction project.

"Based on the facts found in the trial, the defendant gave the money to Al Amin under a threat," Azirwan's lawyer Rusydi Arlond Bakar told the court.
The local administration planned to use 8,300 hectares of protected forest to house the regency's new capital, Bandar Seri Bintan.

Under the forest conversion scheme, any land conversion request must be submitted to the forestry minister by the local administration. The minister then requires approval from Commission IV before issuing a permit.

The KPK arrested Azirwan and Al Amin at a hotel in South Jakarta on April 8, 2008. The arrest came just hours after Commission IV approved the conversion.

"It was Al Amin, not the defendant, who took the initiative by demanding money to expedite the issuance of the forest conversion permit," Rusydi said.

He said his client objected to the demand, but because Al Amin threatened him, he had no choice but to pay the money.
"My client originally rejected the demand, saying the request was exorbitant," Rusydi said.

Witnesses in the trial testified they heard Azirwan complain several times about Al Amin, saying he often demanded large amounts of money.
"He's just like a robber," Rusydi said.

However, prosecutors rejected the defense's plea, saying the defendant had the opportunity to reject the demand for money.

"Since the defendant opted to violate the law by giving the money to Al Amin, he should be held responsible for his actions," prosecutor Suwardji told the court.
He added the defendant's excuse did not justify the crime, nor could it be used to acquit him.

"Therefore we insist on rejecting the defense's plea," Suwardji said.
Al Amin, from the United Development Party, is not the only politician embroiled in the scandal. Four other Commission IV members -- Sudjud Sirajuddin of the National Mandate Party, Hilman Indra of the Crescent Star Party and Azwar Chesputra and Syarfi Hutauruk of the Golkar Party -- and former commission member Yusuf Emir Faishal of the National Awakening Party, as well as Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban, are also implicated in the case.