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Indonesian Prosecutors Question Tandjung on Missing Funds - 2002-02-05

Indonesia's state prosecutors have been questioning parliament speaker Akbar Tandjung over a multi-million dollar graft scandal that could spell an end to his presidential aspirations.

State prosecutors questioned Akbar Tandjung over allegations he channeled $3.8 million from the state food agency into his Golkar political party for the 1999 parliamentary elections. Mr. Tandjung denies any wrongdoing and claims he gave the money to a charity foundation to buy food for the poor.

After a three-month probe, the prosecutors say they have found no evidence the money ever reached the poor.

If the case ever reaches the courts and Mr. Tandjung is found guilty, Golkar, the country's second largest political party, would be barred from participating in the 2004 presidential elections.

Harold Crouch, the Indonesian project director of the International Crisis Group, doubts the case will ever go to court because Mr. Tandjung has threatened to implicate other Golkar members.

"I'm sure as a person who's so long involved in the Suharto regime that Akbar Tandjung would know a lot about these matters and he wouldn't go down without a fight, I would say," he said. "So the likelihood is that they would not want to push him down for fear of being exposed themselves. But at the same time, the chances are that this will destroy Akbar's own chances of becoming president."

Mr. Crouch, however, does not expect the financial scandal to spell the end for the powerful Golkar party, which kept the former autocratic president Suharto in power for 32 years.

"I think Golkar is basically a patronage machine," he said. "It's influence in the last election was basically outside Java, but also in Java, but especially in the outer islands where a lot of the district heads, the governors, and so on were the Golkar people carried over from the Suharto period. I think that's the strength of Golkar, they look after their supporters."

The 500-member Parliament is still considering whether to set up its own investigation into the financial scam. Mr. Tandjung was named a suspect in the case last month.