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Indonesia Parliament Speaker Defends Himself in Court - 2002-06-17

Indonesia's speaker of parliament took the stand in court Monday to defend himself against charges he misappropriated $4 million in government funds.

Parliament Speaker Akbar Tandjung appeared relaxed and confident as he answered a series of tough questions by the judge at Jakarta's Central District Court. The head of the Golkar political party, Mr. Tandjung is accused of taking $4 million dollars in state funds intended for charity and using it instead to help finance Golkar's 1998 election campaign. Mr. Tandjung has consistently denied the charges.

At court Monday, he said he only learned the money had been misspent in March 1999 when his co-defendant Winfred Simatupang wrote him a memo. Mr. Tandjung testified he was quite angry and has since seen the money was returned to the Attorney General's Office. Mr. Tandjung was one of Indonesia's most powerful politicians when Golkar was in power under former presidents Suharto and B.J. Habibie. Before the charges were brought against him, he was considered a potential candidate for Indonesia's presidency in 2004. Some analysts see the trial as an attempt to marginalize Mr. Tandjung's political influence. Others suggest this hearing is a key test of Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri's pledge to clean up government corruption.

If convicted, Mr. Tandjung faces up to 20 years in prison. It is also likely to seriously damage the Golkar party, which has had trouble shaping a new identity since the fall of former President Suharto in 1998.