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3RD LD: Supreme Court acquits Indonesia's parliamentary speaker.

JAKARTA, Feb. 12 Kyodo

(EDS: UPDATING, CLARIFYING IN 7TH-8TH PARAS THAT TANDJUNG RECEIVED 3-YEAR SENTENCE)

The Indonesian Supreme Court on Thursday overturned House of Representatives speaker Akbar Tandjung's conviction and three-year prison sentence for corruption, clearing the way for him to run in the country's presidential elections later this year.

''Defendant Akbar Tandjung has been legally and convincingly not found guilty of enriching himself...other persons or organizations... and misusing his power,'' said Presiding Judge Paulus Effendi Lotulung.

However, his co-defendants Dadang Sukandar, 54, chairman of Raudatul Jannah, a Muslim foundation dealing with humanitarian affairs, and Winfried Simatupang, 64, a corporate executive, each received prison sentences of one-and-a-half years.

The two co-defendants were also fined 10 million rupiah (about

$1,100) each.

The ruling was issued as thousands of Tandjung supporters rallied in front of the Supreme Court building, face to face with anti-Tandjung student protesters who shouted, ''Hang Akbar Tandjung!''

Earlier in the day, police clashed with the students, leaving at least 15 students injured.

The 57-year-old Tandjung was convicted and sentenced to three years in jail by the Central Jakarta District Court on Sept. 4, 2002, for corruption in connection with the misuse of 40 billion rupiah from the National Logistics Agency (BULOG) in 1999.

The Jakarta Higher Court upheld the jail term in January last year, dismissing his appeal for an acquittal.

Tandjung appealed to the Supreme Court in the middle of last year.

In their legal considerations, the five-judge panel said ''there was no evidence, documents, witnesses' testimonies or defendants' testimonies'' showing Tandjung's involvement in the case.

''The defendant also didn't know that the money channeled to Raudatul Jannah had been improperly used by the two other defendants,'' Lotulung said. ''He only knew about the improperness when the case was under the process of investigation.''

''Based on the recommendation he had received, in his opinion, the organization had a professional capacity,'' he added.

The decision by the Supreme Court has been regarded as vital to determine Tandjung's political future because he is also chairman of the once-ruling Golkar Party and one of the party's strongest candidates in the presidential election set for July 5.

A 2003 law stipulates that someone can run for presidency as long as he or she ''has never been sentenced to prison based on a final, legal verdict for committing a crime, which carries a prison term of five years or more.''

Tandjung and his family and friends, who followed the trial session from television at his official residence, expressed happiness over the verdict.

''I have said since the very beginning that I'm not guilty,'' he told reporters. ''I thank the judicial panel for accepting my appeal.''

Tandjung's case came under the country's 1971 and 1999 Anti-Corruption Law, which carries a jail term of 20 years for those who are convicted of stealing money belonging to the Indonesian people.

A delay in the trial process raised public speculation of backroom deals and political intrigue.

Tandjung, whose party supported strongman Suharto during his tenure as the country's president for more than three decades, was accused of misusing the 40 billion rupiah from BULOG while serving as state secretary in the administration of then President B.J. Habibie, Suharto's successor.

The speaker admitted to channeling the money to Raudatul Jannah, but he claimed the funds were transferred to meet basic needs of the poor during the peak of the national economic crisis in 1999.

There is widespread belief, however, that the money went into the Golkar coffers to finance its campaign in the 1999 general election.

Then President Abdurrahman Wahid was removed from office in July 2000 by the People's Consultative Assembly, the country's highest constitutional body, over another BULOG-related financial scandal dubbed ''Bulogate 1.''

At that time, Golkar, now the second-largest party after the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-Perjuangan) chaired by President Megawati Sukarnoputri, played a pivotal role in catapulting her to the presidency.

''Bulogate 2,'' involving Tandjung, was disclosed by members of Wahid's National Awakening Party in the legislature, a move seen by many as revenge for Golkar's part in Wahid's ouster.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Feb 17, 2004
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