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NEWS UPDATES 28 September 2009

Indonesian corruption watchdog in danger of losing independence

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The future of Indonesia's powerful anti-corruption commission has been put under threat by what activists say is a concerted campaign to shut down progress made against entrenched graft, reported AFP.

Lawmakers are expected to pass a law next week that would strip the independent Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) of the authority to prosecute -- a power that has seen it put away high profile politicians and officials.

The law, part of a rash of legislation before the end of the current parliament's term, would leave the KPK solely as an investigator while the corruption-tainted attorney general's office (AGO) would be left to prosecute.

"The grand scenario is the government is trying to weaken the KPK," Indonesia Corruption Watch secretary general Teten Masduki told AFP.

The law is likely a reaction to successes that have seen the KPK-linked Corruption Court achieve a 100 percent conviction rate in a country known as one of the world's most corrupt, Masduki said.

"I think everyone knows the DPR (parliament) is always reluctant to go with the process of anti-corruption. They don't really support the KPK."

The looming legal changes come as the KPK was paralysed by the suspension this week of two of its remaining four commissioners after they were named suspects in a police graft probe.

The suspension of deputy commissioners Chandra Hamzah and Bibit Samad Rianto comes just months after the arrest of KPK chief Antasari Azhar for murder and is the latest chapter in what activists have called a war between the KPK and top police officers.

They have repeatedly denied they are out to weaken the KPK, in spite of reports that senior police officers have been angered by the commission investigating their own members.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has created a team to fill the gaps in the KPK's leadership, but Masduki said it appeared the president had soured on the commission after one of his relatives, former central bank deputy governor Aulia Pohan, was sentenced to a jail term of four-and-a-half years for graft.

"When the police were trying to investigate the KPK, the president didn't try to stop them. I think he pushed the police to investigate the (two) commissioners without enough evidence," Masduki said, adding that it remained to be seen if the selection of replacement KPK heads would be fair.

Political analyst Wimar Witoelar said that while the KPK remains hated by many politicians and police, Yudhoyono -- who goes by the initials SBY and was re-elected this year with a strong mandate thanks in part to the KPK's strides against corruption -- remained committed to tackling graft.

"If SBY really wanted to let the KPK suffer, he wouldn't have intervened with the regulation in-lieu-of-law," he said, referring to the formation of the team to pick replacement KPK commissioners.

Indonesia is ranked the world's 126th cleanest country by Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International, on an equal pegging with countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia.


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