By NINIEK KARMINI and STEPHEN WRIGHT
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — An Indonesian court sentenced a politician praised by President Donald Trump to 15 years in prison on Tuesday for his role in the theft of $170 million of public money, a victory for anti-corruption police fighting the country’s rampant graft.
Setya Novanto, the former speaker of Indonesia’s parliament and former chairman of the Golkar party, sat impassively, bowing his head slightly, as the guilty verdict and sentence were announced at the Jakarta Corruption Court.
Asked by the five-judge panel to respond, Novanto, his voice trembling, said he would think about whether to appeal or accept the outcome.
Prosecutors said Novanto was among about 80 officials, lawmakers and several companies who used the introduction of a $440 million electronic identity card system in 2011 and 2012 to steal more than a third of the funds.
The ruling said Novanto enriched himself with millions of dollars of public money by abusing the authority and opportunities available to him because of his political position.
“The defendant has consciously committed a criminal act of corruption,” the chief judge, Yanto, who uses one name, told the court.
The corruption case, epic even by the standards of Indonesia’s notoriously corrupt parliament, and Novanto’s monthslong efforts to elude questioning by the Corruption Eradication Commission disgusted and angered many in the world’s third-largest democracy.
The anti-graft commission’s lead investigator in the scandal was attacked with acid after leaving dawn prayers in April last year and blinded. No one has been arrested.
“A 15-year sentence for a figure as once-powerful and connected as Novanto will make Indonesia’s elites think twice before participating in egregious graft,” said Hugo Brennan, a senior Asia analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a business and political risk consultancy.
During the trial, Novanto denied any wrongdoing while also using his knowledge of the conspiracy to accuse other senior politicians in an unsuccessful attempt to gain leniency as an informant. As part of his defense, he read a poem to the court.
A Trump fan, Novanto made an unexpected appearance at a news conference held by the future president 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.
The court found that Novanto received about $7.4 million from the corruption conspiracy and faces another two years in prison if an auction of his assets doesn’t recoup that. He is banned from holding public office for five years following the end of his prison term.
Prosecutors had sought 16 years in prison.
In November, Novanto was hospitalized after a car he was riding in collided with a power pole in an accident widely mocked online as a tactic to avoid arrest. He was arrested in the hospital after doctors who examined him said he was fit to stand trial.
The court said businessmen and Ministry of Interior officials involved in the electronic ID project invited Novanto to work with them because they believed his influence in parliament would be crucial in securing its budget and financing.
What followed were delays in the project and inflation of the value of project contracts, allowing funds to be stolen. Novanto organized key meetings for project finance and budget approval and was involved in transferring money abroad and using unregistered money changers to avoid taxes and law enforcement scrutiny, the court said.
Several other leading politicians, including ministers in President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s government, are possibly implicated in the scandal.