. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sukhoi Deal Could Sink Megawati

APIndonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri looking at a Su-30 fighter jet in the town of Zhukovsky outside Moscow on April 22.
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia's parliament is launching a probe into alleged irregularities in the purchase of Russian fighter jets -- a potentially damaging political scandal for President Megawati Sukarnoputri ahead of next year's general elections.

The scandal revolves around the purchase of four Sukhoi jet fighters and two Mi-35 helicopters. Megawati signed the $192.6 million deal to buy the aircraft during a visit to Moscow in April.

General Endriartono Sutarto, the head of Indonesia's military, said Indonesia would eventually like to buy a total of 48 fighters, which would be a major coup for struggling Sukhoi, but opposition lawmakers have accused Megawati's administration of violating legal requirements to channel all military purchases through the Defense Ministry.

She instead bought the six initial aircraft using funds reserved for natural disasters, they say.

"The government has violated the law," parliamentary defense commission member Rizal Djalil said Wednesday. "There are a lot of people who could stand to enjoy a huge amount of money through commissions and markups."

Parliament has established a committee that meets next week to begin its investigation. The panel already has announced plans to summon Cabinet ministers and try to question Russia's ambassador to Jakarta.

Graft scandals have a history of causing trouble for governments in Indonesia, where corruption is widespread. In 2001, the country's highest legislative body forced Megawati's predecessor, Abdurrahman Wahid, from power after a scandal involving the misuse of state funds.

Although it remains too early to say whether the fighter jet affair will cause serious problems for Megawati, it comes at a time when the president is trying to galvanize political support ahead of the 2004 elections.

"Megawati has clearly violated several procedures in purchasing the planes," The Jakarta Post said in an editorial. "There is speculation that some people are reaping financial profits from this deal."

Megawati's administration has not responded to the allegations of impropriety. She has spent the last eight days overseas on a tour of Asian countries and is scheduled to return to Jakarta on Friday.

A spokesman for Rosoboronexport, the Russian defense industry's export wing, categorically denied that any bribe-giving or bribe-taking had taken place, saying, "it was a black and white state-to-state agreement, there can be no question about bribes."

Questions have also been raised over the logic of Indonesia's cash-strapped government buying new high-tech fighters when much of the military is ill-equipped with even basic weaponry. Navy ships and air force planes often sit idle for lack of fuel or maintenance.

The government previously had defended the Russian purchases, saying a U.S. arms embargo against Indonesia has grounded much its fleet of American-made fighter jets because of an inability to acquire spare parts. (AP, MT)