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Politically wired tycoon Siti Hartati Murdaya was untouchable for decades based on her strong connections with all of the country’s presidents except for Sukarno.
Her nearly legendary reputation met its end as the country’s top graft fighters moved to regain public trust amid concerted efforts by political elites to constrain their power.
The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) declared the businesswoman and leader of a religious group a suspect in a corruption scandal on Wednesday.
“Investigators have found sufficient evidence to name a new suspect in the case, SHM, the president director of PT Hartati Inti Plantations,” KPK chairman Abraham Samad told reporters at KPK headquarters on Wednesday, referring to Hartati by her initials.
Abraham said that Hartati, a member of the board of patrons of President Susilo Bambang Yud-
hoyono’s Democratic Party, allegedly paid a Rp 3 billion (US$318,000) bribe to Amran Batalipu, the regent of Buol, Central Sulawesi.
“The money was allegedly given in connection with the issuance of a business permit for PT Cipta Cakra Murdaya and PT Hartati Inti Plantation. The money was given in two stages: Rp 1 billion on June 18 and Rp 2 billion on June 26,” Abraham said.
Hartati was charged with bribery and conspiracy under the Corruption Law and Criminal Code and faces five years’ imprisonment and a Rp 250 million fine if convicted.
Her attorney, Tumbur Simanjuntak, said his client was innocent, alleging that Hartati was as the victim of an extortion scheme devised by Amran.
Hartati’s lawyers previously claimed that Amran had demanded a Rp 3 billion bribe from the firms, which was negotiated down to Rp 1 billion.
“Every businessman is afraid of regional officials. This was not bribery. This was extortion. Ibu Hartati is a victim,” Tumbur said.
The KPK’s move, which follows the naming of an active duty police general as a suspect in one investigation and the questioning of the Democratic Party’s chairman in another, apparently caught party officials by surprise.
“We didn’t expect that the KPK would name her [Hartati] as a suspect in the case” senior Democratic Party politician Hayono Isman told reporters at the House of Representatives in Jakarta on Wednesday.
“We respect the KPK’s decision. We have no option but to obey the law. We fully trust the KPK to further investigate the case to prove whether Hartati is guilty,” Hayono added.
Hayono said that Hartati would be suspended as a member of the Democratic Party’s patron board in accordance with internal regulations.
Another member of the patron board, Ahmad Mubarok, said that the party should not be blamed for the scandal implicating Hartati.
“It’s purely from her business endeavors. She never had direct contact with us, even though she’s a member,” Ahmad said.
The Democratic Party would, however, provide Hartati with legal assistance, he added.
The KPK has named three suspects in the case: Amran; Yani Anshori, the general manager of PT Hardaya Inti Plantations; and Gondo Sujono, the firm’s operations director.
Hartati, who chairs the Indonesian Buddhists Association (Walubi), was reportedly one of the largest contributors to Yudhoyono’s presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2009.
The support apparently paid off for Hartati.
For example, in 2005, then cabinet secretary Sudi Silalahi wrote on Hartati’s behalf to then forestry minister MS Kaban warning him not to revoke a permit for her forest concession in East Kalimantan.
Sudi stepped in again on Hartati’s behalf in 2009, when a shipment of footwear bound for export was held by customs officials after the firm failed to pay taxes.
Hartati and her husband, Murdaya Widyawimarta Poo, are Chinese-Indonesians who entered politics soon after the downfall of president Soeharto in 1998.
Murdaya, who was named the 14th wealthiest person in Indonesia by Forbes in 2011, has since won a seat in the House representing the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which is not part of Yudhoyono’s ruling coalition.
Siti Hartati Murdaya. JP/NurhayatiDate/Place of Birth: Jakarta, Aug. 29, 1946
Education: Trisakti University, Economics faculty
Wealth: Est. US$1 billion (2012)
Owns more than 50 companies including Berca Indonesia, Metropolitan Kencana, Balfour Beatty Sakti, Hardaya inti Plantation and JIExpo
• February 2010
Benteng Demokrasi Rakyat (Bendera), an NGO, alleges that funds from the Bank Century bailout went to Hartati.
• April 2012
The Attorney General’s Office named a new suspect in a graft case surrounding a procurement at tax office involving PT Berca Hardaya Perkasa (BHP), which is owned by the Murdaya family.
Margareth S. Aritonang contributed reporting.