Indonesia's clerical President denies sex scandal claim

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The Independent Online

Abdurrahman Wahid, the Indonesian President and Muslim cleric, must have thoughtthings could not get any worse. In the Moluccas, Christian and Muslim gangs are fighting a terrible civil war. In Jakarta, the national assembly is investigatingtwo cases of alleged corruption involving the President.

Abdurrahman Wahid, the Indonesian President and Muslim cleric, must have thoughtthings could not get any worse. In the Moluccas, Christian and Muslim gangs are fighting a terrible civil war. In Jakarta, the national assembly is investigatingtwo cases of alleged corruption involving the President.

But now, the ultimate indignity: a sex scandal involving a married woman and a compromising photograph.

Despite scathing denials by the presidential palace, two leading Indonesian magazines have published the account of 38-year-old Aryanti Sipebu, who claims that Mr Wahid promised to marry her during an affair in the mid-1990s. "I know what it means to be lied to by him," she told the weekly current affairs magazine Gatra. "I want to tell the truth so the people know who their leader really is."

Polygamy is legal for Indonesia's mostly Muslim population, but not for government officials. If true, the revelations could be very damaging to Mr Wahid, who was elected as the country's first democratic President last October, with a reputation for honesty and being a loving family man. The First Lady, 60-year-old Sinta Nuriyah, is an academic paralysed in a car crash five years ago.

Mr Wahid and Ms Aryanti are an unlikely pair. Aged 60, he is almost blind, and frail after a series of minor strokes. She is the divorced wife of a Jakarta businessman, who claims she met Mr Wahid in 1995 when he was still the head of Indonesia's biggest Muslim organisation, Nadhatul Ulema. According to another weekly magazine, Panji, they were introduced by a mutual friend, a "bread mogul" called Sulaiman.

Despite his fame as one of Indonesia's leading intellectuals and a critic of the Suharto dictatorship, Ms Aryanti said she had not known who he was. "I am poorly educated and rarely read a newspaper," she said. "I was lonely at the time. Our first intimate relations happened in Bali, in October 1995. I wanted to do it because my faith is not very strong, and he said that later we would ask for forgiveness from God together."

Mr Wahid allegedly bought a car for Ms Aryanti and gave her money, but he cooled towards her after she caught him embracing another woman.

The presidential chief of protocol said on Monday: "The rumour is rubbish and has no news value at all. It is such cheap gossip blown up to discredit the President."

Whether true or not, the sharks are circling Mr Wahid. Further attacks on his integrity can be expected.

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