EDITORIAL: Unprotected key witnesses
The Jakarta Post
The death of Indonesian-born businessman Johannes Marliem inside his home in Los Angeles, California, came as a shock as he was directly linked to the high-profile e-ID card case that the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) is investigating.
The KPK named Johannes a key witness in the graft case as he claimed to have met several politicians, including the Golkar Party’s Setya Novanto, and be in the possession of 500 gigabytes of digital recordings of his conversations with them, as his company Biomorf Lone LLC was hired to provide an automated fingerprint identification system for the project. Despite being a key witness, he never asked for protection from the Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK), even though the state agency had offered the arrangement to him after he made headlines over his statements related to the ID card saga last month.
KPK investigators questioned Johannes in Singapore in February and in the United States in July and named him about 25 times in their indictment against former Home Ministry officials Irman and Sugiharto for playing a role in the corruption case. Johannes denied having paid bribes or having any knowledge of acts of bribery in the case, which is believed to have caused Rp 2.3 trillion (US$172.29 million) in state losses.
The Los Angeles Police Department is now investigating Johannes’s death, but the demise of a key witness in the mega case has left many questions, particularly whether this will prevent the KPK from catching more and bigger players in the case.
The KPK has named Setya, currently the House of Representatives speaker, a suspect in the ID card case, but the Golkar chairman has vowed to challenge the KPK’s move in court. It seems Johannes could have led the KPK to more politicians, given his deep involvement in the e-ID card project. In an interview with Tempo magazine, Johannes said he had discussed preparations for the project with the people behind it for over a period of four years.
KPK spokesman Febri Diansyah insisted that without Johannes’ statements, the KPK would still be able to bring to justice anyone implicated in the case, citing the court verdict that found Irman and Sugiharto guilty. The KPK, he added, does not need to make public key information it extracted from Johannes during his questioning in the US.
Thus the KPK has no reason to worry about the prospect of its investigation into the e-ID card case following the death of Johannes. But a number of deaths of important witnesses in corruption cases the KPK investigated in the past did keep the antigraft body from moving forward with the cases. In the corruption case related to the construction of a sports center in Hambalang in the West Java regency of Bogor, for example, four witnesses died of various causes, ranging from a stroke to accidents, as the case implicated politicians from the ruling Democratic Party.
Such coincidences in the death of key witnesses in high-profile graft cases have sparked suspicion of efforts to dispose of evidence. Although this allegation is difficult to prove, the KPK must act to protect key witnesses.
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