Efforts by the Prosperous Justice Party ( PKS ) to distance itself from Ahmad Fathanah were stymied after the Corruption Eradication Commission ( KPK ) presented evidence linking the graft suspect to the Islamist party's top officials.
Agriculture Minister Suswono, himself a senior PKS politician, for example, changed his testimony while in the witness chair at the Jakarta Corruption Court on Friday during the trial of the first suspects in the import beef graft scandal.
After denying he knew Fathanah, Suswono admitted on Friday that indeed he did know the graft suspect.
Testifying in open court, Suswono said he first met Fathanah during a PKS political campaign in Takalar, South Sulawesi, at the end of 2012.
'I met him with current PKS chairman Anis Matta,' Suswono told the court during the trial of meat importer PT Indoguna Utama directors Juard Effendi and Arya Abdi Effendi.
The men are on trial for allegedly bribing former PKS chairman Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq using Fathanah as a middleman.
Luthfi, the only PKS politician charged in the case to date, has been accused of using his influence as then-PKS leader to lobby Suswono to raise the import meat quota awarded to Indoguna.
Suswono also admitted that he met Fathanah at a meeting attended by Luthfi and PT Indoguna Utama president director Maria Elizabeth Liman in Medan, North Sumatra, on Jan. 11.
The minister said that they had only discussed soaring meat prices, with Elizabeth presenting data on meat shortages.
'I only met Fathanah twice,' Suswono said. 'When I met him in Medan, I did not remember him as Fathanah because I knew him before as 'Olong'.'
Fathanah, whose full name is Achmad Olong Fadeli Luran, is reportedly known as Olong in his hometown in South Sulawesi.
After Suswono claimed that he had only met Fathanah twice, prosecutor Mohammad Roem showed the court three photos of Suswono and Fathanah.
The first photo showed Suswono in a brown batik shirt laughing with Fathanah, who sat beside him at a round table. The second and third photos showed the pair sitting with three other people at the same table.
After being presented with the evidence, Suswono laughed nervously, saying that he finally remembered that he also met Fathanah at a breakfast meeting at Makassar Mayor Ilham Arief Sirajuddin's house. 'Thank you, your honor, for reminding me,' Suswono told judges.
Suswono is the second PKS politician to have recanted testimony in the face of evidence from the KPK. On Thursday, PKS chief patron Hilmi Aminuddin admitted he met with Fathanah after previously claiming that he never knew or met Fathanah before.
Also at trial on Friday, Suswono testified that Luthfi had set up the 15-minute meeting in Medan. 'Luthfi asked me to meet him in his hotel room because he had arranged breakfast.'
KPK investigator Amir Arif, who surveilled the meeting, said that Suswono entered Luthfi's room at Hotel Aryaduta at 6 a.m. and exited at 7 a.m.
Fathanah also testified as a witness in the PT Indoguna case on Friday, repeatedly attempting to sever ties with Luthfi and the PKS, saying that he had acted alone.
'It was I who initiated the meeting in Medan,' Fathanah said, although he said that he often made donations to the PKS as a 'broker'.
The court then heard a recording of a telephone conversation between Fathanah and Luthfi that implied that Fathanah wanted to deliver a Rp 1 billion ( US$102,512 ) bribe to Luthfi from the PT Indoguna Utama officials.
Luthfi recanted a previous statement that he never accepted any money from Fathanah after prosecutors said that he told investigators that he accepted $40,000 on Jan. 14 at the Grand Hyatt. Luthfi claimed that Fathanah had borrowed the money from him.
The court also played a recording of a conversation from Jan. 14 that implied that Fathanah had wired Rp 250 million to Luthfi and asked to whom he should deliver the $40,000 fund.
It was also revealed at the hearing that Fathanah paid Rp 10 million to have sex with a woman, Maharani Suciyono, who was naked when she was arrested with Fathanah in a hotel room after he accepted the bribe.
'I was asked by Fathanah to make love with him,' the 20-year-old college student told judges.