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Leaked phone tap appears genuine

Jakarta Post Editiorial - February 20, 1999

The fact that many Indonesians look in quite a jovial mood these days does not mean that the devastating economic crisis has ended. They simply say they have a jocular topic in their daily conversation: the leakage of a telephone conversation between President B.J. Habibie and Attorney General Andi M. Ghalib about, among other things, the investigation into former president Soeharto's alleged corruption.

The truth of such a scandal is always questionable, but the fact that Habibie has ordered a probe into the leak shows that the conversation did take place despite Ghalib's denial. Most people who listened to the conversation played by private station ANtv on Thursday said they were convinced that these were the identifiable voices of the two important personalities.

In the age of high technology, presidential conversations are frequently recorded in many modern countries. The question now is why the security agency at the palace has been so careless in securing the secrecy around the head of state. Is it part of its nationwide failure, which is apparent, among other things, in the prevention of the fatal riots which have taken place in many areas since last year?

However, while the investigation is underway, perhaps, one thing is for sure, and that is that the person or persons who bugged the conversation must have an adequate technological capability and the distribution seems to have been politically motivated.

In this case, security during Soeharto's presidency was tighter so that no such disgrace ever took place. And had it happened, no element of the mass media would have been bold enough to report it, as Panji Masyarakat did this week. But the biweekly magazine looked careful enough in its publication of the transcript of the palace conversation and indeed had earlier tried to obtain confirmation from Ghalib, but the latter refused to talk. In its fastidiousness Panji also talks of "the voice sounding like Habibie's or Ghalib's" in leading readers to the conversation.

Anyway, the freedom of the press granted to the nation by the government has been demonstrated in ironic fashion for some of the authorities who still have to learn the vast spectrum of democracy. A free press always looks like a stained mirror for a scarred face.

On the other hand, the recording also speaks another truth about the Soeharto investigation. It clearly confirms the public belief that the questioning of businessmen Arifien Panirogo and Sofjan Wanandi at the same time as the Attorney General's Office was busy investigating the disgraced dictator forms part of an effort to switch public attention from the probe into his case.

So far the people have been inclined to believe that the Soeharto probe is just a farcical show of the government's sincerity. Ghalib's remarks claiming Soeharto's innocence in this case reflect poor logic.

We are of the opinion that Habibie should bear in mind that the way the game has been played is a blatant obstruction of justice and is in contempt of the order of the People's Consultative Assembly, the country's highest constitutional body, to investigate the cases of corruption and crony capitalism, especially those which involve Soeharto. Moreover, the President has also reportedly told Muslim scholars here that he will not bring his predecessor to justice. The farce will surely anger law-abiding Indonesians and eventually provoke the establishment of a "people's court".

This time the attorney general should also be careful in denying his role in the conversation because there is a high tech device now capable of detecting the timbre of one's voice. When needed, this probe should be carried out by independent investigators.

The issue sounds very problematic but the people do not necessarily share Habibie's headache because, as Panji has reported, there are more recordings of palace conversations now being distributed. So Indonesians have more soothing and entertaining stories to look forward to.