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Banker held over $133 million poll scandal

Sydney Morning Herald - June 22, 2000

Lindsay Murdoch, Jakarta – Authorities yesterday arrested a top Indonesian economic official over a $US80million banking scandal linked to Golkar, the former ruling party.

The governor of Bank Indonesia, Sjahril Sabirin, was held at the Attorney-General's office hours after President Abdurrahman Wahid returned from overseas. For weeks Mr Wahid has been demanding that the banker quit over the scandal involving the former state-owned Bank Bali.

A source at the Attorney-General's office said Mr Sjahril would be detained for an initial 20 days to facilitate investigations into the scandal, in which money is alleged to have been channelled to help the re-election chances of the former president, Dr B.J. Habibie.

Mr Wahid had earlier announced plans to shake up his fragile Government, declaring that some of his ministers "give me headaches". Speaking in Egypt at the end of a two-week world trip, Mr Wahid said the ministers he planned to replace in August after the annual sitting of the People's Consultative Assembly were "still tied to their parties".

Confirmation of the reshuffle, which had been widely predicted, will further antagonise Mr Wahid's political rivals, many of whom want the assembly to impeach him over his performance in running the country.

After returning to Jakarta yesterday, Mr Wahid, 59, went straight into talks with the armed forces commander, Admiral Widodo, and the Vice-President, Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri.

In Egypt, Mr Wahid said Ms Megawati and others in his Government had approved his decision to reshuffle the Cabinet. "I will be free to choose the Cabinet members," he said. When Mr Wahid won office last October he was forced to choose ministers from parties that had supported his presidency ahead of Ms Megawati, whose Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle had won the most votes in the country's first real democratic election.

But analysts say Mr Wahid has never been happy with the way the Cabinet operated and his instructions to ministers have been ignored. In April, Mr Wahid sacked two economic ministers, including the respected state enterprises minister, Mr Laksamana Sukardi. The decision provoked a storm of protest and a sharp drop in investor confidence.

Mr Wahid is expected to bring into Cabinet people he sees as loyalists, probably from his own National Awakening Party. He did not name the ministers he intends to replace.

Antara also quoted Mr Wahid as saying that former president Soeharto had amassed a $US45billion fortune during his 32 years in power.

Mr Soeharto, 79, claims he has "not once cent" stashed in overseas banks, and his lawyers have denied suggestions by Mr Wahid that the Soeharto family was prepared to give money back to the state.

"First the Government will ask for 50 per cent," Antara quoted Mr Wahid as saying. "If the students are not satisfied, they will protest. Soeharto will get scared. And then we will tell him: 'We will protect you as long as we get more'. Eventually we will get 95 per cent of it."