Beef import scandal swallows another Indoguna Utama boss
Hans Nicholas Jong
The Jakarta Post
The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) on Friday named Maria Elizabeth Liman, the owner and president director of meat importers PT Indoguna Utama, a suspect in the corruption case surrounding meat import quotas at the Agriculture Ministry.
KPK spokesperson Johan Budi said that KPK investigators had found two pieces of evidence implicating Maria in the case.
'She appears to have violated Article 5 Item 1 or Article 13 of Law No. 31/1999 on corruption,' he announced at KPK headquarters in Kuningan, South Jakarta. The articles carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
According to a source inside the KPK, Maria is suspected of having lobbied former Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) chairman Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq to use his influence with Agriculture Minister Suswono, also of the PKS, to grant an import license to the company. 'The bribe was delivered by Juard and Arya Abdi, but the one who laid the groundwork was her,' the source said.
Maria has been questioned numerous times as witness for her son, Arya Abdi Effendi, and his uncle, Juard Effendi, both of whom are suspects along with Luthfi and his aide, Ahmad Fathanah.
When asked in February about her involvement in the case, she vehemently denied it. 'No way would I be a suspect!' she told reporters after her questioning session.
The businesswoman was dragged into the case when Luthfi's lawyers revealed that their client met with Maria, Suswono, Ahmad and former chairwoman of the Indonesian Seed Association (Asbenindo) Elda Devianne Adiningrat at the Arya Duta Hotel in Medan on Jan. 10 and 11 to discuss meat prices.
A KPK source said that the company intended to bribe Luthfi during the meeting, but the bribe failed to materialize. The company then attempted to bribe Luthfi again, this time through Fathanah, in Jakarta in late January.
That was when the KPK arrested Juard and Arya Abdi, both directors at Indoguna Utama, as well as Fathanah and Luthfi.
Maria's lawyer, Denny Kailimang, said that his client could not accept the KPK's decision to name her suspect. 'She believes that she is innocent,' he told The Jakarta Post. 'The meeting was initiated by Elda and Ahmad. As a meat importer, Maria felt obliged to give her input to help solve the problem of meat prices problem.'
Maria, Denny says, is being by the KPK to inch closer to Suswono. 'Maria was dragged into the case and named suspect just because she was present at the meeting so that the KPK can link Suswono the case,' he said.
When asked whether the KPK would name Suswono suspect, Johan said that the investigation would not stop at Maria. 'We are still investigating other parties,' he said. 'Anyone can be charged with bribery even if he or she had not take the bribe, as stipulated by the law,' he said.
Maria founded Indoguna in 1982. Starting with only five employees, the company has grown into a leading meat importer with more than 1,000 employees and subsidiaries all over the world.
The company's track record has not always been clean. In 2011, irregularities were found with Indoguna's import license.
'The minister's policy was that the company should not be blacklisted,' said Prabowo Respatiyo Caturroso, former director general for animal husbandry at the Agriculture Ministry.
The inspector general found 51 containers of beef without an import license. The minister ordered the beef to be turned away as a penalty to Indoguna.
Suswono refused to blacklist PT Indoguna, saying that rejection was enough of punishment.