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Aceh governor seeking amnesty for Puteh

Jakarta Post - November 1, 2007

Ridwan Max Sijabat and Nani Afrida, Banda Aceh/Jakarta – Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam Governor Irwandi Jusuf has sent an official letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono appealing for amnesty for his predecessor, Abdullah Puteh.

Politicians and activists in Aceh questioned the appeal, saying it undermined a sense of justice for the people of Aceh.

In the letter delivered Sept. 7, 2007, and also sent to the Supreme Court, Irwandi lent his support to Puteh's appeal for amnesty, citing the erstwhile governor's contributions to the province in chairing the National Youth Committee (KNPI), ending Aceh's isolation, and lobbying for the signing of the peace agreement between the government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in 2005.

The letter also called for Puteh's amnesty without interference from others. The President has the prerogative to grant amnesty to all citizens.

Irwandi was not available to comment on the letter, which was released to national media Wednesday.

Puteh is serving a 10-year sentence at Suka Miskin prison in Bandung, West Java, on corruption charges. According to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), his mismanagement of funds caused Rp 10 billion (US$1.1 million) in losses to the state.

Puteh was found guilty of enriching himself and abusing his power in the purchase of a Russian-made helicopter for the Aceh administration in 2001.

In addition to handing down a heavy jail sentence, the Supreme Court fined Puteh Rp 500 million and ordered him to pay Rp 6.5 billion in restitution to the state.

Wiratmadinata, chairman of the Coalition of Non-Governmental Organizations on Human Rights in Aceh, criticized the governor's move, saying the letter damaged the people's confidence in Irwandi and his government.

"With the letter, Irwandi is interfering with the rule of law, and this will certainly affect his administration's credibility in the eyes of Acehnese people, especially anti-graft activists," he said.

Khairul Amal, a councilor of the Aceh provincial legislative council, said the council opposed such a move when the governor first discussed it.

Coordinator of the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) Teten Masduki warned the President against accepting the appeal, saying this would cast doubt on his commitment to corruption eradication.

"Of course, it is the President's prerogative, but he should bear in mind the mandate the people gave him to fight corruption," he said.