Indonesian prosecutors charged former parliamentary speaker Setya Novanto at the start of his corruption trial on Wednesday, accusing him of receiving at least U.S. $7.3 million in kickbacks in one of the country’s biggest graft scandals.
But his indictment, which kicked off the trial at the Central Jakarta district court, was delayed for seven hours, after the defendant’s lawyers said that their client was suffering from a bad bout of diarrhea.
“The court has agreed that the trial can continue with [an] indictment,” said Judge Yanto, who goes by only one name. “The defendant only needs to carefully listen to the prosecutors reading the indictment.”
Setya, one of Indonesia’s most influential politicians and the ex-speaker of the House of Representatives (DPR), faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, if convicted of violating the country’s Anti-Corruption Law. His resignation as DPR speaker was the second time in two years that he stepped down because of corruption allegations leveled against him.
The latest graft charges stemmed from a 2009 government project on biometric electronic identity cards for 250 million Indonesians.
Setya’s lawyers had argued earlier that he was too ill to face the charges, prompting sneers and laughter from courtroom spectators. But prosecutors said that a team of doctors had earlier examined him and declared he was healthy enough.
“I’d had diarrhea for five days,” the politician, who appeared under the weather as he sat in the courtroom, told the judge.
Setya was seen coughing at the start of the trial. Initially, he also appeared to be dodging questions from judges by responding to questions with coughs.
Guards also assisted him when he walked in and out of the room.
“It is clearly visible that my client does not act like a healthy person during the trial,” Setya’s lawyer, Maqdir Ismail, said. “We never intended to delay the trial, but this is the fact.”
Prosecutors were apparently irritated by Setya’s actions, accusing him of lying to the court.
“We are confident that he is healthy enough and able to attend the trial,” prosecutor Irene Putri told the court.
“He once complained about his health that he had to go to the toilet multiple times. But a prison guard said he only went to the toilet two times last night and slept the whole night until this morning,” she said.
Disputes over Setya’s health forced the court to adjourn the trial twice. The proceedings resumed after he was found fit to stand trial.
Setya, who has faced allegations of corruption in the past but has never been convicted, was accused of taking part in a conspiracy of dozens of officials who used the project called e-KTP to embezzle more than $170 million of state funds. He denied the allegations that became public this year.
Kickbacks and a glittering gift
The millions of dollars in kickbacks allegedly given to Setya were earmarked for the $443-million project between 2011 and 2012, prosecutors said.
Setya also received a Richard Mille watch worth about $135,000 as a bribe to ensure he would shepherd the project for parliamentary approval, prosecutors said.
The controversy captivated Indonesia after a series of dramatic events led to Setya’s arrest.
Setya initially avoided questioning by the country’s anti-corruption agency for months, but then he turned up in a hospital emergency room in late November, claiming he had been involved in a car accident in South Jakarta.
Officers from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) raided his palatial home, then arrested him at the hospital in a scene widely covered on social media.
After his arrest, the Golkar party, a partner in Indonesia’s governing coalition, removed him from his duties as chairman. He resigned his post as speaker on Monday, without explaining why, according to party officials.
In December 2015, Setya was forced to resign as House speaker after the head of Freeport McMoran in Indonesia, Maroef Sjamsoeddin, told a parliamentary ethics panel that he had secretly recorded a meeting during which the speaker had allegedly asked for a 20 percent-stake in the mining company.
Setya denied the allegation. Indonesia’s attorney-general later dropped an investigation and the Constitutional Court ruled in his favor. He was reappointed as House speaker last year.