JAKARTA, Indonesia — A top Indonesian politician embroiled in a scandal involving an epic theft of public money has been hospitalized after a car crash that is being widely mocked online as another tactic to avoid arrest.
Indonesians were hardly surprised that their Donald Trump-admiring speaker of parliament Setya Novanto was nowhere to be found this week when police went to arrest him. But the car crash has unleashed a wave of incredulity among a public often indifferent to the slippery moves of Indonesian politicians.
Images swept across social media Thursday night showing a black SUV with a dented grill resting against a power pole, and Novanto apparently unconscious in a hospital bed with a bandage on his head. Jakarta police have yet to reach a conclusion in their accident investigation, but Novanto’s lawyer said the politician was injured and anyone who calls the incident fake should be reported to police.
Some aren’t buying it, calling the crash Novanto’s most outrageous move yet to stymie the investigation and comparing it to a plot twist in one of the homegrown TV melodramas that regularly captivate millions.
Novanto, once hailed by Trump as one of Indonesia’s most powerful men, has for months been using every political, medical and legal maneuver available to avoid questioning after being named a suspect in the $170 million corruption scandal.
In recent weeks he’d been unable to respond to summons for questioning, citing a variety of health problems that required hospital treatment, though earlier this month had apparently gathered enough strength to be a guest at the wedding of the daughter of Indonesia’s president.
“Setya Novanto and his team of lawyers must think we Indonesians are all fools,” said Rina Amelia, a 29-year-old barista at a Jakarta cafe. “This accident? Seriously?”
The Corruption Eradication Commission had said it would declare Novanto a most-wanted fugitive within 24 hours after he avoided arrest during a Wednesday night raid by commission officials and paramilitary police on his Jakarta home.
A day later Novanto was being driven to an appointment in Jakarta when the accident happened.
Novanto’s lawyer, Fredrich Yunadi, said the politician was sitting in the back of the car and the driver was turning his head to talk to Novanto when he drove into the power pole. The driver, a reporter from a local TV station, only suffered light injuries but Novanto, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, was “badly injured” with symptoms of a concussion, according to Yunadi.
Officials from the anti-corruption commission have been at the hospital since Thursday night, Yunadi said.
“I and hospital officials have told them that such a situation was not good for other patients, but they did not care,” he said.
Mocking memes on social media using a hashtag that translates as “Save the power pole” quickly went viral.
Some predicted that the next twist in the drama would be Novanto claiming to have lost his memory and therefore unable to answer any questions about the corruption scandal.
“Sit back and grab your popcorn, this ain’t over yet,” said human rights lawyer Veronica Koman on Twitter.
Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono said police have not yet reached any conclusion about whether the collision was purely an accident or otherwise. Yuwono said the MetroTV reporter who was driving the car would be prosecuted and faces up to three months in prison if convicted of negligent driving.
Anti-corruption police allege that Novanto was among about 80 people, mostly officials and legislators, and several companies used the introduction of a $440 million electronic identity card system in 2011 and 2012 to steal more than a third of the funds.
Novanto, also chairman of the Golkar party, which is part of Indonesia’s governing coalition, has denied any wrongdoing.
A Trump admirer, Novanto made an unexpected appearance at the future president’s news conference at Trump Tower in New York in September 2015 along with another Indonesian lawmaker, Fadli Zon. Novanto was introduced by Trump as one of Indonesia’s most powerful men who would do great things for the U.S.
Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos contributed.