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Police hunting assailants of top Indonesian graft buster

by April 13, 2017 General

The National Police have launched an extensive manhunt across the country to track down the drive-by assailants who threw acid into the face of prominent Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigator Novel Baswedan early on Tuesday morning.

A special task force established by the Jakarta Police has questioned at least 14 witnesses as of Wednesday evening to shed some light into the attack that has been condemned by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo as “a brutal act.”

Security arrangements have also been deployed to secure Novel’s place of residence and the hospital where he is receiving treatment.

Following the attack, Jokowi ordered National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian to immediately arrest the assailants.

National Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Awi Setiyono said Novel’s household assistant had told police investigators that a man visited Novel’s house a week ago.

“The man, who was described as burly, asked the assistant if the house was selling gamis [long robes worn by Muslims] for men,” Awi said. Adi said Novel’s wife, Rina Emilda, only sold gamis for women in a shop opened inside the house.

Awi said, however, that investigators were still deciding whether or not the testimony was relevant.

“We cannot disclose the identities of the witnesses. The investigators are gathering all the statements [from witnesses]. They will be able to sort out the important ones.”

Novel, a lead investigator in the e-ID embezzlement case, was doused with acid by two unidentified men riding a motorcycle after he had performed morning prayers at a mosque nearby his house in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta.

The attack comes as the Jakarta Corruption Court continues the trial into the embezzlement of state funds from the e-ID project. The case, which some estimate caused state losses amounting to Rp 2 trillion (US$150 million), has also dragged in senior politicians including Golkar Party chairman Setya Novanto.

Novel was also an important investigator in several other highprofile graft cases, including a bribery case implicating 39 legislators in the appointment of Bank Indonesia (BI) senior deputy governor Miranda Goeltom. He was also in charge of the investigation leading to the arrest of National Police traffic chief Insp. Gen. Djoko Susilo.

Following the attack on Novel, anti-corruption activists have joined a nationwide campaign voicing support for the KPK and encouraging the anti-graft body not to be deterred by the incident.

Novel told the police he felt he was being followed for several days prior to the assault.

Former KPK chairman Busyro Muqoddas said Novel had survived six attempts on his life during his time at the commission.

Aside from questioning several witnesses, the police have collected several pieces of evidence such as recordings from surveillance cameras, a cup that was allegedly used by the perpetrators to carry the acid and Novel’s clothes during the incident.

Residue from the acid that burned up parts of Novel’s face, neck and eyes has been taken to the police’s forensics laboratory for testing. The police, however, said the test results were not available for publication.

On Wednesday, Novel was flown to Singapore for medical treatment for injuries to his eyes. Novel has reportedly suffered a loss of vision in his left eye.

KPK chairman Agus Rahardjo said KPK officials had consulted with doctors from the Jakarta Eye Center (JEC) in Menteng, Central Jakarta, and decided to transfer Novel to Singapore for better treatment.

JEC president director Johan A. Hutauruk said Novel’s eyesight had improved since the attack.

The decision to move Novel to Singapore was also based on a request from Novel’s family, Johan said.“We contacted the doctors there so [Novel] could be treated immediately,” he said.

In 2011, a female politician under electronic surveillance for suspected corruption was heard calling a shaman. She instructed the shaman to use black magic to hurt top officials at the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

The black magic turned out to be useless as the woman was eventually convicted of corruption and sentenced to years behind bars.

The agency, formed in 2002 to fight graft in one of the world’s most corrupt countries, has its share of occupational hazards.

From witchcraft to death threats, law enforcement officials assigned to the frontline of the war against corruption have seen it all.

“Witchcraft and death threats are common,” said former KPK acting chairman Busyro Muqoddas on Tuesday.

“One example is when all staff members working on the same floor simultaneously suffered from an illness that could not be explained in October 2014,” said Busyro, who, like most Indonesians, believes in supernatural forces.

The KPK headquarters in Kuningan, South Jakarta, is also littered with ritual offerings such as yellow rice, bones and amulets as part of presumed spiritual assaults.

But nothing has jolted the nerves of graft-busters as much as when two unidentified assailants on a motorbike threw acid into the face of ace KPK investigator Novel Baswedan on Tuesday, causing severe injury to his eyes.

Physical attacks against KPK officials are uncommon and the commission has recorded no fatalities or casualties since its inception.

This probably explains the lack of security for KPK leaders and investigators, who are only equipped with a handgun for everyday protection while out of the office.

What often undermines the commission is the threat of prosecution by the National Police for petty crimes. A recent example of this occurred in early 2015 and the kerfuffle forced then KPK chairman Abraham Samad and his deputy Bambang Widjojanto to resign.

The attack against Novel, who has already suffered countless death threats and acts of terror, has forced the KPK to review its security measures to protect its staff amid an attempt to ramp up the pursuit of major corruption cases involving many of the country’s most influential politicians and business people.

“We will review our security procedures by adding more personnel to provide security to our staff members,” KPK chairman Agus Rahardjo said.

The National Police and the Indonesian Military (TNI) have been quick to react by offering help to better protect the safety of KPK investigators.

“I have talked to the KPK chairman. The police are always ready to provide maximum protection,” said National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian.

However, he said not all KPK investigators would want to have security personnel nearby because some of them were involved in undercover operations.

The police, he said, had deployed personnel to permanently protect Novel and his family.

TNI chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo also said the military was on standby if the KPK needed protection, particularly at a time when the agency was dealing with big cases.

The KPK is currently handling corruption surrounding the e-ID project, which analysts believe to be the biggest case ever handled by the anti-graft body in terms of state losses and the parties involved.

About Rp 2.3 trillion (US$173 million) is believed to have been swindled from the country by influential politicians.

Golkar Party chairman and House of Representatives Speaker Setya Novanto, a key ally of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, is implicated in the case.

Before Tuesday’s act of barbarism, Novel was attacked in mid2016 while investigating the e-ID case. He was riding a motorcycle heading to the headquarters of the KPK when suddenly he was hit by a car. He was thrown from his bike but only suffered minor injuries.

In 2015, another KPK investigator named Afif Julian Miftah received a bomb threat and his car was splashed with acid. At the time, he was handling several big cases, including money laundering allegations involving former Democratic Party politician Muhammad Nazaruddin.

“Terror is our cup of tea,” former KPK chairman Antasari Azhar said in February, recalling some of the threats he had received when he led the commission from 2007 to 2009.

Antasari was forced to resign from the commission after he was convicted of murder, but his 18-year sentence was recently reduced by Jokowi due to indications of a miscarriage of justice. Antasari was released from prison in November last year.