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Airline Probed in Activist's Murder

Pollycarpus, who has worked for the airline for 17 years, has not been named by the government as a suspect and has repeatedly denied any part in Munir's death. But his presence on the flight has been widely mentioned in public by police, news media and Garuda executives.

Police said Munir took Pollycarpus's seat in the section while the pilot moved to first class, before leaving the flight when it stopped in Singapore.

Munir Said Thalib and his wife, Suciwati, at the Jakarta airport. Munir was headed to the Netherlands on Indonesia's state-owned airline when he was given a fatal dose of arsenic. (Courtesy Of Poengky Indarti)

Pollycarpus said in an interview that it was a coincidence he and Munir were on the same flight, GA-974, to Singapore. Pollycarpus said he had been on special assignment for Garuda's security chief, who had asked him to check on reports that an airliner departing Singapore in late August had experienced mechanical problems.

"Out of service and politeness, I offered a seat in business class to Munir," Pollycarpus said in the interview, which was arranged by his attorney.

During the next hours, Munir ran to the airplane toilet several times, vomiting repeatedly.

A physician on board gave Munir several injections for his ailments, including a tranquilizer. He appeared to sleep. But when the doctor went to examine Munir about three hours before arrival, his body was stiff and cold.

Two months later, Dutch forensics experts reported the results of their autopsy and Indonesian investigators started raising questions about Pollycarpus.

Pollycarpus said his company had specifically directed him to take GA-974 on Sept. 6. "I was just doing my job," he said. "I could have gone any time. A thousand different dates, it's no problem for me."

But Setiawan, the airline president, said the pilot had decided on his own to travel on that particular day. An airline secretary, meanwhile, told investigators that Pollycarpus insisted on being issued a ticket on that flight, although there were nine other flights to Singapore the same day, police said.

Both Pollycarpus and the airline provided the same description of his assignment. He was to travel to Singapore to confirm with airline technical staff on the ground that a Garuda Boeing 747 that left the city-state in late August had been forced to ditch its fuel and return to the Singapore airport after the craft's landing gear had failed to retract.

Pollycarpus later reported to the airline that he successfully completed his assigned task. Investigators, however, cited witness testimony that the pilot went directly to his hotel after arriving in Singapore and then caught an early morning flight back to Jakarta without meeting anyone.

Confronted with the contradictory accounts, Setiawan said his company could not check the pilot's version of events because Pollycarpus told them he could not remember whom he met in Singapore.

Hanafi and other members of his special commission have accused the airline of withholding information. After the company called off a police-sponsored reenactment of the flight last month, on grounds that the flight crew was busy, commission members charged the airline with obstruction.

Indonesian news media have speculated about possible ties between Pollycarpus and the National Intelligence Agency. Published reports noted his history of heading to areas of separatist conflict at the height of Indonesian military operations.

Maj. Gen. Syamsir Siregar, the agency's newly appointed chief, told Indonesia's Tempo magazine that he had no information that Pollycarpus was an intelligence agent or operative.

The pilot's attorney, Suhardi Somomoeljono, said Pollycarpus never worked for the intelligence agency and had visited conflict areas to help with humanitarian work. The lawyer denied that Pollycarpus was involved in Munir's death and criticized investigators for focusing their probe on his client. He contended that the activist was not murdered.

"Dutch doctors engineered the results of the autopsy," the attorney said. "We believe he was sick and that was the reason for his death."

Special correspondent Yayu Yuniar contributed to this report.

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