New Efforts in the Munir Case

Police form a new team of investigators in the Munir case after the Supreme Court acquits Pollycarpus. A number of members of the Fact-Finding Team doubt that the new investigators will be able to advance the case absent any serious support from the President. What new facts are needed to shed new light on Munir’s mysterious death?
SUCIWATI is finally pleading her case to the world. Feeling that the authorities in Jakarta have not handled the matter of her husband’s death seriously, Suciwati went to New York on Friday this week. There she is to meet with the human rights council of the United Nations (UN). She is also going to speak with some members of the United States Congress in Washington, DC. She intends to ask these two institutions to pressure Jakarta to find out who murdered Munir, her husband and a fighter for human rights. “The case must be solved right down to the identity of the perpetrators,” Suciwati stressed.
Munir died mysteriously on September 7, 2004 on board flight GA-974 en route to Amsterdam, Holland. It is estimated that he died somewhere over Hungary. In Holland, his body was autopsied by the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI). The conclusion: death from arsenic poisoning.

According to the findings of the NFI, the level of arsenic in Munir’s bloodstream had risen to 3.1 milligrams per liter. The human body can only withstand a limit of 1.7 milligrams. The NFI doctors also noted that there was still 465 milligrams of arsenic in the victim’s stomach.

The autopsy findings estimated that the arsenic was ingested 90 minutes before the onset of initial symptoms of poisoning. This would indicate that the poison was ingested during the Jakarta-Singapore flight. It is suspected that this deadly poison was hidden in the victim’s food and drink ingested during the flight.

Police then named Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto as a murder suspect. Pollycarpus was a Garuda pilot who was also on the flight to Singapore on that night of September 6, 2004. In December 2005, the panel of judges from the Central Jakarta District Court had sentenced him to a 14-year jail term. The judges concluded that this 45-year-old was proven guilty of carrying out the premeditated murder of Munir. He was also proven guilty of using a forged letter. The High Court also upheld the decision.

On Wednesday of last week, the Supreme Court overturned the decision. They decided that Pollycarpus had not been validly proven to be Munir’s murderer. He was only found guilty of using a forged letter, for which he received two years imprisonment.

The Pollycarpus family, which was pleased by the decision, moved quickly. On Tuesday of this week, Yosepha Herawati Swandari and her lawyer went to National Police Headquarters to ask for the conditional release of Pollycarpus. “The basis for this request is that Polly has already served 19 months of jail time, or over two-thirds of his sentence,” said Adnan Wirawan, Pollycarpus’s lawyer. The police denied their request.

Suciwati and friends of the late Munir also moved quickly. In addition to protesting to the UN, a number of Munir’s friends have pressured the government to form an independent team to reinvestigate the case. It is hoped that this independent team can get to the bottom of the case and identify the culprits.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) formed the Fact-Finding Team (TPF) in the Munir case in Presidential Decision No. 111/2004.

However, this team had troubles from the outset. Initially, a number of the team’s members believed that they would be given some authority over the police in order to work on the case. As it turned out, the presidential decision only assigned them to assist the team of investigators formed by the police. “This is what triggered the resignation of a number of members of the team,” said Asrmara Nababan, one of the team’s members.

With this severely limited authority, the TPF could not do much. “Because they did not have a strong position, a number of measures proposed by the TPF were easily rejected by the police,” said Usman Hamid, Munir’s associate and a team member. The duties of the TPF ended on June 23, 2005.

After the decision of the Supreme Court was handed down last week, Usman proposed an independent team with expanded authority, namely to have supervisory power over a police team. With this authority, an independent team could direct a police investigation. Usman and a number of former members of the TPF are currently making a list of what needs to be investigated by an independent team.

The most crucial matter is access to questioning a number of high-ranking officials of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN). This is felt to be necessary because the findings of the TPF investigation indicate that Pollycarpus telephoned a high-ranking official at the BIN office before Munir’s death. The trace done by the team discovered that Pollycarpus had contacted the telephone number of Major-General (ret) Muchdi Purwoprandjono, at that time Deputy V of BIN.

The TPF twice summoned Hendropriyono, then the head of BIN. Hendropriyono refused to come, but he invited the team to his office. “I am an ordinary member of the public. If a statement is needed, the people should come to the person,” said Hendropriyono at that time. This invitation was rejected by the Fact-Finding Team. “We are not going to fall for that maneuver,” said Usman Hamid. Two other high-ranking officials from the agency, namely Muchdi and Colonel Bambang Irawan, also refused their summons.

In an interview with Tempo, Muchdi denied that he ever spoke with Pollycarpus by phone. “It would be very stupid of me to order someone to commit murder and then to keep contacting them. I’m not that stupid,” said Muchdi.

Then who was it that was speaking with Pollycarpus via Muchdi’s telephone? “That is what must be investigated by the independent team,” said Usman Hamid. This team must be given the authority to investigate some BIN officials, as well as to listen to the recording of Pollycarpus’ calls to a BIN official.

Asmara Nababan, a former member of the TPF, has proposed that an independent team be given access to documents in BIN connected with Munir’s murder. “Access to those documents is important to find any connections between Pollycarpus and BIN,” he said.

It looks like a number of BIN officials will turn down any more summons in this case. Mahendradatta, Muchdi’s lawyer, stressed that, “If the police don’t demonstrate the legal basis [for the summons], why should they appear?” Muchdi, said Mahendradatta, was questioned because it was suspected he had
contacted Pollycarpus by telephone. However, because Pollycarpus was not proven to be Munir’s killer, there is no further basis for questioning Muchdi.

An independent team also needs to take a look at is the closed-circuit television (CCTV) recordings at Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Tangerang, Banten, and Changi Airport in Singapore. This needs to be done to find out who Munir spoke with before boarding the plane. This information would be useful to sort out who is most likely to be the murderer.

Checking the CCTV footage also needs to be done to find out who was not on the passenger list but was on the flight. In their investigation, the TPF discovered that there were some discrepancies regarding the number of passengers. In the manifest it was written that there was 14 passengers in business class, whereas there were actually 15 passengers.

The TPF was also able to identify an unregistered passenger of the following description: athletic build, about 40 years old, of Chinese descent. This mysterious passenger sat in seat 01K and disembarked in Singapore. The TPF suspects that this mystery man was involved in Munir’s murder. For this reason, an independent team needs to find out who this passenger was.

It appeared that another reenactment of the crime scene was needed in order to find out what was going on near Munir at that time. The TPF had asked the police to do a reenactment, which was finally held on the day the TPF disbanded: June 23, 2005. The police were not required to inform them about the reenactment. However, “We should have been informed,” protested Usman Hamid.

Usman Hamid proposes that the new reenactment be done by an independent team. Simulating the crime scene needs to involve a number of people who sat near Munir during the flight to Singapore.

Will President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono convene an independent team? This is not clear. Suciwati and Munir’s friends planned to convey this idea in a meeting with the President on the Friday before Suciwati flew to New York.

However, this plan was cancelled, and the meeting has been delayed indefinitely. This is despite the fact that Munir’s colleagues are hopeful of obtaining the support of the President. A police official who was once a member of the TPF emphasized that the Munir case is not a whirlwind, but a major tsunami. So, “It needs the political will of the President to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

Wenseslaus Manggut, Abdul Manan, Wahyu Dyatmika, and Eduardus Karel Dewanto

Tempo Magazine, No. 07/VII/Oct 17 – 23, 2006

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