FILE – In this Monday, Dec. 7, 2015 file photo, Indonesian House Speaker Setya Novanto, center, leaves after attending the Parliament’s Ethics Council hearing in Jakarta, Indonesia. Indonesia’s anti-graft agency has named Novanto as a suspect in a corruption scandal in which officials allegedly pocketed more than $170 million in government money. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana, File)
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — The speaker of Indonesia’s parliament, once hailed by President Donald Trump as one of Indonesia’s most powerful men, has denied any wrongdoing after being named a suspect in a corruption scandal in which officials allegedly pocketed more than $170 million of government money.
Setya Novanto told a televised news conference Tuesday he would respect the legal process, but that there was no truth to the accusation that he stole more than $40 million. He is staying on as speaker.
“I believe that Allah the Almighty knows that all allegations against me are not true,” he said.
The chief of the Corruption Eradication Commission, Agus Rahardjo, announced on Monday that the commission had gathered sufficient evidence to name Novanto a suspect.
Anti-corruption police allege that a network of about 80 people, mostly politicians, and several companies used the introduction of a $440 million electronic identity card system in 2011 and 2012 to steal more than a third of the allotted funds.
Novanto, of the Golkar Party, is the fifth suspect announced in the case, which could turn into a test of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s willingness to take a hard line against corruption since suspicion has fallen on lawmakers from parties in the ruling coalition, including Golkar.
Graft is at epidemic levels in Indonesia and holds back development of the nation of more than 250 million people. Separately, lawmakers are seeking ways to weaken the anti-graft agency’s powers.
Novanto, a Trump admirer, made an unexpected appearance at a Trump news conference at Trump Tower in New York in September 2015 along with another Indonesian lawmaker, Fadli Zon. Novanto was introduced by Trump as one of Indonesia’s most powerful men who would do great things for the U.S.
Rahardjo said that Novanto is “suspected of enriching himself or other people by abusing his power” and played a key role in planning the swindle.
Among those named in an indictment presented in March at the ongoing trial of two suspects, who were Ministry of Home Affairs officials, are the justice minister, a former interior minister and two provincial governors. So far they have not been named as suspects and local media report they have denied any wrongdoing.
Last year, Transparency International gave Indonesia a corruption score of 37 on a 1 to 100 scale, where 100 is completely free of corruption. Out of the 176 countries ranked, Indonesia was 90th, far from its goal of reaching 50th place by 2016.