Indonesia trial delayed by graft-charged speaker's 'diarrhoea'

Jakarta (AFP) –


Indonesia's biggest corruption trial in years was derailed Wednesday after its graft-charged parliament speaker Setya Novanto claimed a bout of diarrhoea had left him too ill to participate, prompting jeers from the courtroom gallery.

The claim was just the latest in a string of manoeuvres -- including allegedly faking an injury in a car crash -- that critics say the 62-year-old has employed to dodge serious charges.

Novanto -- who has faced corruption allegations in the past but has never been convicted -- is among several senior politicians accused of taking kickbacks from funds for a government project to issue new ID cards to Indonesia's more than 250 million inhabitants.

The graft scandal, which came to light earlier this year, is estimated to have syphoned around $170 million out of government coffers.

The scope of the claims has shocked many in the Southeast Asian nation, even by standards of one of the world's most corrupt countries.

Novanto, who arrived at Central Jakarta Court in an orange vest worn by graft suspects, appeared dejected and meekly grunted when a judge repeatedly asked his name.

"I've had diarrhoea for five days -- I asked the doctor for medicine but I was not given drugs," Novanto told the court, which frequently erupted in laughter in response to his behaviour.

His lawyer said Novanto was too ill to take part in the trial -- despite arguments from prosecutors that three doctors had examined him earlier and declared him fit.

"This person is sick and we did not make it up," Maqdir Ismail told the court.

"Please grant us a chance for him to be examined by other doctors."

Presiding judge Yanto, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, suspended the proceedings in the late morning.

It was another twist in a saga that has captivated the country and taken on elements of drama befitting of Indonesia's popular soap operas.

Novanto dodged questioning by Indonesia's anti-corruption agency for months, but was arrested in hospital last month after he claimed to have been injured in a car crash.

The reported accident came shortly after a failed raid on his palatial estate in a ritzy part of the capital.

Novanto, an influential politician from the main opposition Golkar Party, has been caught up in corruption scandals in the past.

He was forced to quit as speaker in 2015 after he was caught on tape trying to extort a stake in the Indonesian unit of US mining giant Freeport-McMoRan in exchange for extending the company's right to operate in the archipelago.

He was cleared of the allegations and was reappointed as speaker in 2016. This week he tendered his resignation.