Indonesian Airline's Ex-Chief Charged in 2004 Fatal Poisoning of Activist

Munir, who exposed abuse by the Indonesian army during the Suharto dictatorship, died of arsenic poisoning in September 2004 while traveling on Garuda from Jakarta to Amsterdam via Singapore.


JAKARTA, Indonesia_The former head of Indonesia's national airline and another company official have been formally charged with aiding the 2004 poisoning of a prominent human rights activist during a flight to the Netherlands, a defense lawyer said Sunday.

Indra Setiawan, then president director of Garuda, and flight operations officer Rohainil Aini were picked up early Saturday for questioning at the national police headquarters.

They were initially charged with forging documents relating to the murder of human rights campaigner Munir Said Thalib. But those charges were dropped and they were then charged with helping commit premeditated murder, said Setiawan's defense lawyer, Muhammad Assegaf.

Under the new charges, both Setiawan and Aini face a maximum possible penalty of 15 years in jail.

"The two have been charged with helping someone who committed premeditated murder, a charge which is really fabricated," Assegaf said.

Munir, who exposed abuse by the Indonesian army during the Suharto dictatorship, died of arsenic poisoning in September 2004 while traveling on Garuda from Jakarta to Amsterdam via Singapore.

Setiawan and Aini, who had been interrogated in an earlier investigation, were named as suspects in the case, left unsolved following the acquittal last year of Pollycarpus Priyanto, an off-duty pilot and the only defendant at the time.

Pollycarpus, who was on the plane, had been sentenced by a lower court to 14 years in prison, but an appeals court later overturned his murder conviction, citing insufficient evidence.

On Friday, police gave the Attorney General's office what they described as new evidence that would merit a judicial review of Pollycarpus' acquittal.

However, Assegaf criticized the move as illegal.

"Under Indonesian law, only a defendant ... has the right to appeal for judicial review," he said.

National police spokesman Maj. Gen. Sisno Adiwinoto said the fresh inquiry was partly based on forensic testing in the United States that showed Munir was likely poisoned during a layover in Singapore, 30 to 90 minutes before he died.

Adiwinoto said there was enough evidence to arrest Indra and Rohainil on suspicion of falsifying a letter that enabled Pollycarpus to get aboard the plane.

However, Assegaf criticized the arrests and said it was doubtful that Setiawan and Aini would be put on trial.

"According to the arrest warrant, Setiawan is accused of aiding Pollycarpus to kill Munir," Assegaf said. "How come? Pollycarpus has been acquitted, so whom was Setiawan supposed to be helping? It is ridiculous."

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