Witness in Munir Case Recants

JAKARTA ~ A key witness in prosecutors’ bid to reopen the case of a murdered rights activist recanted his statement this week, alleging police intimidation.

Musician Raymond “Ongen” Latuihamalo said police had pressurized him to say he saw the victim in a cafe with the man accused of the murder.

Latuihamalo’s about-face is the latest twist in the high-profile case, in which state prosecutors are seeking to implicate the national intelligence agency BIN.

Munir Said Thalib, who made many enemies in the military during his time as the country’s leading rights activist, was poisoned with arsenic as he traveled from Jakarta to Amsterdam in September 2004.

An off-duty pilot with Garuda Indonesia had his conviction for the murder overturned by the Supreme Court last year, but prosecutors are seeking to have that decision reviewed.

Latuihamalo told police in his original deposition that he saw the pilot, Pollycarpus Priyanto, deliver a drink to Munir at a cafe at Singapore’s Changi airport during their transit. Priyanto is accused of links to BIN.

A chemistry expert told the court on Wednesday the dose of arsenic that killed Munir had been administered eight to nine hours before he died, making it likely he imbibed the poison at the airport.

But Latuihamalo told the Central Jakarta District Court on Wednesday that the chief of police investigators, Mathius Salempang, had intercepted him at Kuala Lumpur airport and apparently threatened to implicate him.

“I never saw Polly with Munir (in the cafe). I only saw Munir with someone,” he said.

Latuihamalo said he had been taken from Kuala Lumpur to a cafe in Singapore.

“At the cafe, Salempang said, ‘Ongen, you are a liar. You are the executor,'” Latuihamalo told the court, adding that the police chief also threatened to stop him from traveling abroad.

Salempang denied the allegations and said that Latuihamalo had been with his lawyer during most of his questioning and when he signed his deposition.

Munir, who died aged 38, was a dynamic activist who provided legal counsel for victims of officially sanctioned violence during president Suharto’s 32-year rule that ended in 1998.

His murder case has drawn widespread international attention and is seen as a litmus test of how well the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is breaking with Suharto’s era of impunity.

A former top executive of the national carrier told the court last week that he had been asked by BIN to allow Priyanto to act as a security officer on its flights.

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