US suspects top officials behind activist's murder

AMERICAN diplomats doubted that Indonesia would prosecute the ''masterminds'' behind one of the country's biggest scandals, the poisoning of the human rights activist Munir Said Thalib.

The doubts of officials from the US embassy in Jakarta are detailed alongside briefings they received from Indonesian police on suspected ''high-level involvement'' in the murder.

State Department cables revealed to the Herald by WikiLeaks, show that senior police briefed the embassy about the investigation into Munir's murder, which has dogged the country's President, Susilo Bambang Yudiyono.

In 2004, Munir - who had accused Indonesian military and intelligence officials of kidnappings and murder - was poisoned aboard a Garuda airlines flight to the Netherlands.

It is suspected that senior Indonesian intelligence officials masterminded the murder, although only relatively mid-level figures have been successfully prosecuted and jailed.

Human rights groups, academics and Munir's wife are lobbying for those suspected of involvement to be brought to justice.

In a cable in April 2007 , under the heading ''Possible high-level involvement'', officials in Jakarta state a high-ranking police officer admitted ''to us last December that Hendropriyono is one of the prime suspects''.

At the time of the murder, Abdulah Mahmud Hendropriyono was the head of Indonesia's intelligence service, BIN.

Another senior officer is recorded saying ''he remains 'hopeful' that the masterminds will also be revealed''.

Hendropriyono has not been charged in connection with the death but human rights groups have accused him of involvement.

The cable also states that human rights lawyers told the US embassy they had been given information from police that implicated Hendropriyono.

''[A police officer] told the … lawyers in January that former BIN chief Hendropriyono chaired two meetings at which Munir's assassination was planned, basing [the officer's] accusation on a BIN witness who remains afraid to give formal testimony. That official said only the time and method of the murder changed from the plans he heard discussed; original plans were to kill Munir in his office.''

The cable concludes that it was ''unclear to what extent police are seriously looking for the masterminds behind the murder''.

''A breakthrough on who ordered the murder would presumably require someone with inside information to take an extraordinary risk in testifying, and would require protection. Nonetheless, the police seem to have been given orders to show progress on the case, likely due to international attention.''

The most senior figure charged in connection with the murder was one of the BIN deputy chiefs, Muchdi Purwoprandjono, who was convicted only to be acquitted last year.

Another cable from June 2008, after Muchdi's arrest, details claims of fresh evidence implicating high-ranking BIN officials.

''Other contacts also told us that police have new evidence regarding a meeting in which senior BIN officials planned to murder Munir,'' the cable states.

''BIN had outlined various scenarios for the murder, including using a sniper, a car explosive and even 'black magic', [embassy contacts] said.

''Several attempts failed before Munir was poisoned … en route to Amsterdam in October 2004.''

In September last year, a third US cable was sent to Washington that described Muchdi as a dangerous and ''vindictive'' person.

''A retired general who knows Muchdi well described him … as 'crazy', explaining that he has a gigantic ego and no scruples.''

A senior police official reportedly said Muchdi had ''a personality that would allow him to commit human rights violations without it bothering him''.