Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Gus Dur denies lobbying U.S. over military ties

Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid has denied helping the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) lobby the United States to lift a military embargo against Indonesia. However, Gus Dur said he did give a BIN official permission to use his name "for the sake of the nation".

He added that he was investigating whether close associates had associated his name with the venture without his permission.

The former president insisted that neither he nor his institution had made any agreements about asking the U.S. Congress to resume military cooperation with Indonesia.

"Neither the Gus Dur Foundation nor I have ever made any deal with BIN nor hired a U.S. company to seek resumption of the military training program," he told a press conference here Monday.

Gus Dur said BIN deputy chief As'ad Said Ali and several other intelligence agents had met with him one day in 2004, asking him if it was okay to make use of his name for the national interest.

"Upon hearing the words 'for the sake of the nation', I replied: 'please do.' And I had no idea this conditional permission would be misused to lobby for the lifting of the military embargo" he said. As'ad is a member of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Islamic organization previously chaired by Gus Dur, his daughter Zannuba "Yenny" Arrifah Chafsoh Rahman said.

A recent report from the U.S.-based Center for Public Integrity (www.publicintegrity.org/icij) disclosed that BIN had used the former president's foundation to hire Washington lobbying firm Richard L. Collins & Co. to persuade the U.S. Congress to lift the military embargo. The revelation sparked protests from Indonesian human rights groups.

The report also said that in compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the contract between the foundation and the U.S. lobbying company was signed by Muhyiddin Arubusman, a legislator of the National Awakening Party (PKB) founded by Gus Dur. The contract says he is the foundation's deputy chief.

According to the contract documents the foundation paid the company US$30,000 monthly from May to July, 2005. BIN picked up the contract directly in September 2005 and continued it until November 2005, when the U.S. lifted restrictions on defense exports to Indonesia."

It further explains that Collins "will aid the Gus Dur Foundation, which is working on behalf of the Indonesian Bureau of National Intelligence" to "educate key officials on the importance of Indonesia's cooperation in combating international terrorism, Indonesia's strides in strengthening democratic institutions, and Indonesia's efforts in asserting civilian control over the military."

Calls to Muhyiddin's cell phone on Monday were not returned.

The former president said he would not sue As'ad and BIN but said this incident should serve as a good lesson for all sides in the future. Yenny added her father and the foundation would not sue BIN because he shared the blame to some extent when he failed to check on the causes with which his name was being connected.

"Lobbying is a normal practice and my father had a positive perception about it, so long as it was done for the good of the nation. The problem is my father was betrayed and his Gus Dur Foundation was reportedly involved in hiring and paying the U.S. lobbying company," she said.

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