Plot Alleged in Death Of Indonesian Activist

Pollycarpus Budihari Priyatno, a pilot charged in Munir's death, looks away from photographers at a parliamentary hearing into the case.
Pollycarpus Budihari Priyatno, a pilot charged in Munir's death, looks away from photographers at a parliamentary hearing into the case. (By Komarul Iman -- Tempo)

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By Alan Sipress
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 25, 2005

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The fatal, midair poisoning last year of Indonesia's best-known human rights campaigner, Munir Said Thalib, was a plot by operatives from the country's spy agency, according to members of a presidential commission probing the September murder.

Police Brig. Gen. Marsudhi Hanafi, who heads the commission, said last week that investigators had obtained a document detailing plans at Indonesia's State Intelligence Agency to kill Munir and uncovered telephone records showing calls between numbers of a suspect in the murder and an official at the agency.

The commission has focused in the last month on a deputy director of the spy agency, commonly known by its Indonesian initials BIN, Hanafi said. Commission investigators discovered more than two dozen calls placed between the telephone numbers of the murder suspect and a deputy director. The content of the conversations is unknown, Hanafi and other commission members said. They said the calls were made in the weeks before and after Munir's death.

"We believe this is an abuse of power in BIN," Hanafi said. "These people used BIN's power, authority and facilities to carry out this operation."

The deputy director, Maj. Gen. Muchdi Purwopranjono, and other BIN officials have said in published news interviews that they did not know the suspect.

Human rights advocates have long accused Indonesia's security forces, including the spy agency, of atrocities. But in recent years, BIN has won quiet praise from U.S. officials for cooperating with the CIA in tracking down Muslim extremists, including several linked to al Qaeda.

Munir, 38, a frequent critic of the security forces, fell sick aboard an overnight Garuda Indonesia flight a few hours after leaving Jakarta and died before reaching his destination, Amsterdam. An autopsy two months later in the Netherlands found he had ingested a highly lethal dose of arsenic, setting off a major murder investigation.

In March, Indonesian police arrested Pollycarpus Budihari Priyatno, an off-duty Garuda pilot who had given Munir his business class seat on the flight, and charged him with being an accomplice to murder. Pollycarpus acknowledged in an interview in March that he invited Munir to sit in business class but said he was not involved in the crime. His attorney denied that Pollycarpus worked for BIN and said Pollycarpus was not involved in Munir's death. Hanafi said investigators now believe Pollycarpus did not poison Munir. "He only opened the gate," Hanafi said.

Pollycarpus is in police detention. Police said they were preparing a criminal file with several counts against him, to be turned over to prosecutors for trial.

Dutch forensic investigators reported after an autopsy that Munir had ingested 465 milligrams of arsenic, more than three times a lethal dose. Indonesian police suspect that the arsenic was slipped into Munir's food or drink that he was served in the business class section.

When investigators confiscated Pollycarpus's cell phone and examined the list of dialed numbers, there was one they couldn't trace, two other commission members said. An operator told them the number was not listed as being in service, they said. The president of Indonesia's national telephone company said in a meeting with investigators at corporate headquarters last month that he was baffled, the commission members said.

But finally, after extensive sleuthing, technical experts at the phone company managed to identify the number, commissioners said. They said it was a confidential line inside the office of Muchdi, BIN's deputy director for agent mobilization. Pollycarpus had called the confidential telephone line in Muchdi's personal office at BIN six times, commission members said.

Further examination of the cell phone and other telephone records revealed that calls were placed between Pollycarpus's and Muchdi's telephones about 26 times both before and after Munir's death, Hanafi said in an interview. Among these, telephone records showed that multiple calls had been placed to Pollycarpus's number from Muchdi's personal mobile telephone.

"This is extraordinary," Hanafi said. "It was very surprising to us."

Muchdi, a former head of Indonesian army special forces, recently retired from the spy agency and has declined two requests to appear before the commission, officials said. But he told police that he never called Pollycarpus, explaining that his cell phone may have been used by someone else, police said.

An associate of Muchdi who works as his media liaison said the retired general would be willing to discuss the case sometime in the future but did not say when.

In an interview published this month in Ekspos magazine, Muchdi denied that either he or BIN was involved in the murder. "Both are wrongful accusations," he said. "It was neither officials nor the institution." He repeated that he did not know Pollycarpus and had never called him. "My cell phone is often used by people close to me. So I don't really know if they made a phone call and what conversation they had," Muchdi said.

After tracking these telephone calls, investigators in the last few days obtained an internal security agency document describing the in-flight assassination as one of four plots put in motion by BIN operatives to kill Munir, each with a specific team assigned to carry them out, Hanafi said.

The special commission has also sought to question Col. Bambang Irawan, a retired Indonesian special forces officer who a witness identified as being on that same flight but whose name did not appear on the passenger list. Irawan was a BIN operative, according to Hanafi and two other commission members.

Hanafi said the commission has evidence that Irawan and Pollycarpus were acquaintances and frequently traveled together. Irawan could not be located for comment. A spokesman for the Indonesian army said military officers had also tried unsuccessfully to contact him.

Investigators are now trying to learn more about another passenger, who sat beside Munir in business class, an elderly chemist who lives in the Netherlands but works as a consultant to an Indonesian company. The commission had also tried to take testimony from the spy agency's former chief, Gen. A.M. Hendropriyono, who resigned from BIN after Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono became president in October.

A.M. Hendropriyono, Indonesia's intelligence chief, has denied that his agency had any involvement. At a news conference this week, he accused Hanafi's commission of overstepping its authority.

But a spokesman for Yudhoyono, who appointed the commission six months ago, expressed complete support for its work. "He appreciates what they've been doing," said spokesman Andi Mallarangeng. "Anybody who is trying to hamper the work of the commission will face the president."

Special correspondent Yayu Yuniar contributed to this report.


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