Subject: SCMP on Munir Murder: Suspect Stirs Indonesia's Murky Waters

South China Morning Post June 28, 2008

Suspect stirs Indonesia's murky waters

Fabio Scarpello

For the past 30 years, Muchdi Purwopranjono has been a powerful and revered - if shady - figure in Indonesia.

But as he awaits trial at a detention centre in West Java, the man whose career has seen him occupying senior posts in the country's feared Army Special Forces (Kopassus) and the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) must be weighing his options.

Muchdi gave himself up on June 19 after he was identified as a suspect in connection to the murder of the human-rights activist Munir Said Thalib, who died of arsenic poisoning while travelling from Singapore to Amsterdam on a Garuda flight on September 7, 2004.

Muchdi has been under suspicion since the revelations of his telephone calls with Pollycarpus Priyanto emerged more than three years ago.

Pollycarpus is a former Garuda pilot who was sentenced to 20 years in jail for poisoning Munir.

In May 2005, a fact-finding team on the Munir case found that Pollycarpus and Muchdi telephoned each other 35 times, with many of those calls occurring just after November 12, 2004, when the news that Munir had died of arsenic poisoning became public.

Pollycarpus and Muchdi insist that they do not know each other. But Bambang Hendarso Danuri, the lead police investigator in the case, has said there is enough evidence linking the two - records of the calls, an incriminating letter from the intelligence agency, and the testimony of his former subordinate - to charge Muchdi with premeditated murder, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of death.

Legal experts claim that the conviction of Muchdi could end the impunity that military personnel have enjoyed since the late dictator Suharto rose to power in 1965.

This, however, will not be easy. The arrest of Muchdi has been a breakthrough in a country known for a weak and malleable police force. His sentencing - by an equally weak and malleable legal system - would shake the foundations of the system and involve more, very powerful, figures.

Muchdi has made a career out of serving as a loyal subordinate to high-profile military figures, and many believe he did not act alone. If he chose to talk, he could shed light not only on the murder of Munir, but also on other unsolved, controversial cases.

Born in Yogyakarta on April 15, 1949, Muchdi graduated from the Military Academy in 1970 and entered Kopassus. Within the Special Forces he acquired the nickname of "Django" - the name of a trigger-happy movie cowboy popular in the 1960s - and soon climbed the ranks, accruing a large amount of experience in combat areas as a paratroop commander in Aceh, Papua and East Timor, the former Indonesian province that voted for independence in 1999.

At Kopassus, he became close to Prabowo Subianto, who was to become Suharto's son-in-law. The two served together in East Timor and Papua. It was Mr Prabowo who helped Muchdi to obtain three promotions in three years until he succeeded Mr Prabowo as Kopassus commander in 1998.

In this role, Muchdi is thought to have allowed the establishment of a covert team - Tim Mawar, or "Rose Team" - that in March 1998 abducted at least 23 pro-democracy activists who were calling for the end of Suharto's rule.

One student died, while all the others were tortured but survived. Several members of Tim Mawar faced justice, but not Muchdi, who, some say, acted under instructions from Mr Prabowo and then-army chief Wiranto, both of whom are now presidential hopefuls.

The crimes of Tim Mawar were exposed by Munir, at that time a young activist-lawyer.

The close association between Muchdi and Mr Prabowo continued even after the former was quietly transferred to a desk job and then recruited by BIN in 2001.

Muchdi is now involved in the mining industry and is also the vice-chairman of the newly formed Gerindra Party, a political vehicle that supports Mr Prabowo for president.

However, during his time at BIN, Muchdi also became close to Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, who was then head of the secret services and who put him in charge of the department of covert operations.

Many allege Mr Abdullah must have been aware of the plot against Munir. Lawmaker and intelligence observer Soeripto said the plan to assassinate Munir was finalised during a BIN meeting about two weeks before the murder.

"The one that made the decision was Hendropriyono. Purwopranjono was just the executor," Mr Soeripto told news portal Mr Abdullah has repeatedly denied any involvement - but doubts persist.

Munir's widow, Suciwati, hopes Muchdi will be willing to shed light on the murder of her husband, the founder of human-rights groups Kontras and Imparsial, who was named as a young leader for the millennium by Asiaweek in 2000.

Others hope that Muchdi, who has often claimed he is a devout Muslim, can find in his heart the strength to do the right thing and speak the truth on the Munir case, as well as Tim Mawar and a series of other incidents in Papua, Aceh and East Timor.

If he does talk, it is likely that Mr Abdullah, Mr Prabowo and Wiranto - among others - will be dragged in as suspects.

However, it does not appear that he will do that. Muchdi maintains his innocence and although it is still not clear who will defend him, his previous lawyers, Zaenal Maarif and Mahendratta, have a chequered history themselves.

The former is a political Islamist, polygamist and former deputy Speaker of Parliament who is on one-year criminal probation for defaming President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Mr Mahendratta has made a career out of defending convicted terrorists as well as Abu Bakar Bashir, deemed the spiritual leader of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah.

Prosecutors have a difficult job ahead.

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