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Jakarta Post

Mystery woman named in graft trial causes a stir in Indonesia

  • Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, October 28, 2013   /  10:37 am

Call her the mysterious palace woman.

"Bunda Putri", or Mother Princess, has become a household name in Indonesia after her name surfaced at an ongoing high-profile corruption trial as a person close to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

She would apparently know beforehand who would go or stay when Yudhoyono reshuffled his Cabinet, reported the Indonesian media.

But until today, no one is certain who she is, nor has anyone come forward to identify her.

The speculations, which have dominated headlines in recent weeks, have prompted Yudhoyono to deny that he had any connection with Bunda Putri, which the media says is an alias.

Even as her identity remains a mystery, photos supposedly of her with various members of the President's inner circle have been circulating on social and traditional media.

Among the photos spreading like wildfire online are those supposedly of her with Cabinet Secretary Dipo Alam and former sports and youth minister Andi Mallarangeng, who has been detained for graft.

Bunda Putri looks slim and attractive, with wavy hair and glasses, in the photos.

At the centre of this brouhaha is a corruption trial involving former Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) chairman Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq, who is accused of receiving bribes linked to the granting of government quotas for beef imports.

The Bunda Putri saga began when Luthfi told a recent court hearing the woman was close to Yudhoyono. In a wiretapped recording of a conversation between Luthfi and the supposed Bunda Putri, played in court on August 28, Luthfi was heard praising her for her ability to influence key ministers' decisions.

As the case unfolded, a PKS minister in Yudhoyono's Cabinet called to the witness stand, Agriculture Minister Suswono, told the court that Bunda Putri had introduced him to Tuti Iswari, a sister of Vice-President Boediono.

Suswono said Tuti wanted the ministry's help in the granting of a beef import quota to a private firm of her choice. He said he met Bunda Putri a few times, including at the latter's home in the posh residential area of Pondok Indah, South Jakarta, but said he did not know her well.

"I did not interact with her much," he told the court, without disclosing her identity.

Boediono admitted to reporters that Tuti was his sister, but said he had no knowledge of any such dealing with the mystery woman. He said he did not know if his sister, a former central bank official, was in business after her retirement.

Meanwhile, Dipo has gone on the defensive about his photo with the supposed Bunda Putri. On Twitter, he said he did not know the woman in the photo said to be Bunda Putri, or when the photo was taken.

"As a public official, I have posed many times in photos with members of the public. But for sure, I do not have knowledge about Bunda Putri, do not know who Bunda Putri is, and do not deal with her," Dipo wrote.

Ruling Democratic Party deputy secretary-general Ramadhan Pohan said Dr Yudhoyono has firmly and publicly stated that he does not know Bunda Putri and has no connection with her.

"It's clear. But we see this is being blown up in the media to divert the real issue, which is corruption in beef import management. The effort has worked. People's attention is very much on Bunda Putri now," he said.

Chatter in political circles has it that Bunda Putri is either the wife of a director-general at the agriculture ministry or the wife of Yudhoyono's household chief of staff, retired Colonel Purnomo D. Rahardjo.

But coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs Djoko Suyanto told a live TV discussion last week that the circulated photos of the supposed Bunda Putri are clearly not those of Purnomo's wife. Suyanto, a former armed forces chief, said he was at the military academy in the same year as Purnomo and knows his wife quite well.

"This issue has gone out of proportion," Suyanto said.

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