President Resists Calls to Dismiss Ministers

nat-yudhoyono.jpgJAKARTA ~ President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono rejected calls this week to sack two ministers embroiled in a corruption scandal, saying he would await the outcome of ongoing investigations.

Development Planning Minister Paskah Suzetta and Forestry Minister Malem Sambat Kaban have been accused by another lawmaker of having taken money embezzled from the central bank in 2004.

Both deny any wrongdoing, and they have not been charged with a crime.

“If the legal process proves they are guilty, I will remove them,” the president told reporters after meeting the ministers at the presidential palace. “I’m not in a position to suspend their mandates as ministers.”

National Police Chief General Sutanto and Attorney General Hendarman Supandji joined the president at the meeting, the Antara news agency reported.

The ministers were mentioned in testimony last week at the trial of former central bank governor Burhanuddin Abdullah over the alleged embezzlement of Rp31.5 billion (US$3.4 million) in bank funds in 2004.

Hamka Yandhu, one of two lawmakers charged in connection with the scandal, named the ministers as being among a group of MPs who were sitting on a committee that was considering changes to the central bank law.

He alleged that the two ministers received illegal payments to influence them to approve an amendment to the law.

Suzetta told reporters before Monday’s meeting that he would resign if the president asked him to but not because of “political pressure trying to discredit me or assassinate my character.”

Yudhoyono promised to stamp out endemic corruption when he was elected in 2004 and is under mounting pressure to make good on his pledge ahead of presidential elections next year.

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