Cover-up alleged in 'arsenic in the noodles' spy case

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The Independent Online

An off-duty pilot with the state-owned carrier Garuda Indonesia has been jailed for 14 years for his part in the murder of the country's foremost human rights activist, who died after eating an in-flight meal of fried noodles laced with arsenic.

But questions about the role of Indonesia's powerful intelligence agency, which is widely believed to have ordered his killing, remain unanswered.

Munir Thalib, 38, an outspoken critic of military and police brutality as well as corruption in high places, was found dead when his international flight landed in Amsterdam in September last year. The pilot, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, had given him his business-class seat for the initial leg, Jakarta to Singapore.

Cicut Sutiarsa, the presiding judge, said yesterday that Pollycarpus, who was supervising security on that flight, added a lethal dose of arsenic to Mr Munir's noodles. "The accused then pretended to be reading a Dutch magazine, while at the same time keeping an eye on Munir to make sure he had eaten all his noodles."

The controversial case has been seen as a test of the degree to which Indonesia has changed since the reign of the late dictator Suharto, under whom state-sponsored killings were common and the legal system delivered justice only to the elite.

Following complaints that police had failed to investigate the murder properly, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - who took office a month after Mr Munir's death - set up a fact-finding team, which said in June it had found evidence implicating intelligence officials in "a well-planned conspiracy".

It uncovered documents suggesting that plotters had considered four ways of disposing of Mr Munir: a car crash, using black magic, poisoning him at his workplace, or poisoning him on a flight.

Police and prosecutors, however, ignored the team's findings, and two Garuda flight attendants are the only other suspects to have been charged.

Judge Sutiarsa noted that Pollycarpus spoke many times on his mobile telephone to senior intelligence agents before and after the murder, but he did not draw any conclusions. He told Central Jakarta District Court that the motive for administering the poison was to silence Mr Munir.

Pollycarpus, 44, who had claimed that he was the victim of a conspiracy, screamed: "I didn't do it! I'm a scapegoat!" after the verdict was delivered. Mr Munir's widow, Suciati, who has campaigned energetically for justice for her husband, said: "They have to find the mastermind. Pollycarpus played only a small part in this conspiracy."

Mr Munir, who had been given a scholarship to study in the Netherlands, became violently ill after leaving Singapore and died two hours before landing at Schipol international airport. The Dutch authorities, who conducted an autopsy, found high levels of arsenic in his system.

Mr Munir rose to prominence during Suharto's repressive regime and, after the latter was ousted in 1998, continued to draw attention to military brutality in East Timor and in the separatist hotbeds of Papua and Aceh, the northern province of Sumatra.

The murder of the internationally renowned campaigner shocked human rights workers both in and outside Indonesia.

His widow, who has travelled the world in an attempt to draw international attention to the murder case, has received a number of death threats. One warned her that she would be "kidnapped and blinded", while another - on a note accompanying a decapitated chicken carcass - stated: "Do not connect the Indonesian army to the death of Munir! Do you want to end up like this?"

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