By: Our Correspondent

In a huge embarrassment for Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the country’s Corruption Eradication Commission has named his nominee to become National Police Chief a corruption suspect even before the official could be confirmed. 

The KPK, as the agency is known, named Cmdr Gen. Budi Gunawan a suspect just a day before the House of Representatives was to hold a hearing to confirm him as the country’s top cop. Despite the KPK’s charge, the House promptly confirmed the general, who has become known in the Indonesian press as “Budi the Bagman,” in an apparent effort to embarrass the new president.  The House is largely controlled by lawmakers nominally loyal to Prabowo Subianto, the man Joko defeated last July to take the presidency.

Jokowi’s cabinet secretary, Andi Widjajanto, said the president was shocked by the KPK’s decision although the agency had vetoed Budi for a cabinet position last October because of corruption concerns. He said Jokowi, as the president is widely known,  would comment on the matter later. 

In the past, being named a suspect by the KPK has been tantamount to a prison sentence. The agency has a 100 percent conviction rate since it came into existence in 2002.

Jokowi came into office as ostensibly the cleanest major politician Indonesia has seen. He won his spurs cleaning up the small city of Solo in Java, then followed that up with a corruption-free reign in his two years as Jakarta governor, winning the admiration of voters despite Prabowo outspending him  by hundreds of millions of dollars.

However, Budi’s appointment also captures the behind-the-scenes struggle Jokowi is having with Megawati Sukarnoputri, the head of his Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which put him on the ballot and played a major role in getting him elected. Budi was Megawati’s adjutant when she served as president from 2001 to 2004. The PDI-P has its own considerable share of corrupt officials. Her own late husband, Taufiq Kiemas, who died a year ago in a Singapore hospital, was long suspected of illegally gained riches. 

Nonetheless, in contrast to his public vow to appoint a cabinet of professionals, Jokowi ended up with one that included 14 members of political parties who backed him in the presidential race. Several of the professionals he named also have close ties to Megawati. He has also come under fire for naming HM Prasetyo as the country’s attorney general. Prasetyo is a member of the National Democrat Party which supported Jokowi’s presidential race and critics have charged that Prasetyo might not be a savory candidate for the job. His appointment, they say, will only serve to protect the interests of Jokowi’s circle for the next five years.  

“This bad-cop Budi thing is Jokowi’s first serious gaffe,” a political analyst in Jakarta told Asia Sentinel. “Assuming this was shoved down his throat by Megawati, It seems the KPK got him off the hook by naming Budi a suspect, which almost certainly guarantees jail time.”

In confirming him, the source said, the House displays a long and cozy relationship with crooked police. Politicians need them for protection, enforcement and local muscle. It is a deeply entrenched system. But beyond that, the legislature is clearly playing games with the matter, confirming Budi while knowing it is virtually impossible for him to take office with the KPK hanging a sword above his head.  Eight political parties, including Gerindra, headed by Prabowo, demanded that the confirmation hearing go ahead.

“This is just a way for the opposition-controlled committee to make the president look bad. The whole exercise seems amazingly cynical, which is hardly a surprise coming from the House of Representatives.'” 

The broader issue, the analyst said, “is how difficult it is to find an honest police general. By the time you reach senior rank, corruption is a matter of course and necessary for survival. Honest reformers are extinct in the upper reaches of the police force so that makes rooting out corruption or even holding the line very difficult.” 

Although several members of the House said the KPK’s naming Budi a suspect amounted to a slap in the face for the president, other sources said that by naming him before he became the head of the force, they had helped Jokowi, forestalling a messy situation after he was in office,  and at the same time firing a shot over Megawati’s bow to let her know they weren’t going to tolerate blatantly crooked top officials.

KPK chairman Abraham Samad told reporters his office had evidence that money found in Budi’s bank accounts, Rp54 billion (US$4.28 million) in 2010 by the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK), might be related to criminal offenses such as bribes and gratuities.

“Based on our case expose conducted last night, we have strong grounds to charge Comr. Gen. BG with corruption for allegedly receiving bribes or gratuities when serving as former head of the National Police’s internal affairs division from 2003 until 2006 and when serving other posts at the National Police,” Abraham told a press conference at KPK headquarters on Tuesday.

The deputy chairman of the watchdog agency denied the probe was politically related, saying it began in  June 2010 when it received reports from NGOs regarding the alleged corruption, which provided a basis for the KPK to launch a preliminary investigation in 2012.

Abraham said he was surprised that Jokowi nominated Budi without consulting the KPK, as the antigraft body, along with the PPATK, had previously nixed him when he was proposed for a ministerial post in October.