June 28, 2023
JAKARTA – The trial of former communications and information minister Johnny G. Plate of the NasDem Party began on Tuesday, with prosecutors accusing him of pocketing some Rp 17.8 billion (US$1.18 million) in kickbacks from inflated procurement in a government 4G telephony project.
The project to erect some 8,000 4G base transceiver stations (BTS) in underdeveloped regions kicked off in 2020 after Johnny was installed as minister, and was led by the Telecommunications and Information Accessibility Agency (BAKTI) under the communications ministry.
Presenting their indictment at the Jakarta Corruption Court on Tuesday, prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) charged Johnny with “violating Article 2 of the 2001 Corruption Law”, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a Rp 1 billion fine.
Prosecutors said that Johnny’s role started in early 2020 when he discussed the project with BAKTI president director Anang Achmad Latif and telecom infrastructure company PT Mora Telematika Indonesia president director Galumbang Menak Simajuntak.
The three individuals were thought to begin drumming up plans for BAKTI to lead the BTS project at that time, while Galumbang began lining up companies affiliated with him to be contracted as vendors using manipulated rules and marked-up prices.
Johnny is also accused of having approved a scale-up for the project without supporting data and business plans.
As the project began rolling, according to prosecutors, Johnny requested and received Rp 500 million a month from Anang, starting from March 2021 until October last year. Johnny allegedly also asked for more money from Anang and received almost Rp 2 billion in further kickbacks from April 2021 to March 2022.
Johnny allegedly also took kickbacks from vendors in the projects throughout 2021 and 2022, in the form of golf outings and junkets to Paris, London and Barcelona that were worth more than Rp 5 billion.
In total, prosecutors said, Johnny “took some Rp 17.8 billion in kickbacks”, while Anang, who is currently standing trial, is thought to have received Rp 5 billion.
Prosecutors said the alleged corruption in the project had caused some Rp 8.1 trillion in state losses.
Johnny has maintained his innocence, saying that he did not do any of the things alleged by the prosecutors.
The trial was adjourned until next week, when the defense will formally present its objections to the indictment.
Besides Johnny and Anang, University of Indonesia human development expert Yohan Suryanto also stood trial on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the trials of three suspects in the case who represented vendors in the project, Galumbang, PT Solitech Media Sinergy commissioner Irwan Hermawan and PT Huawei Investment account director Mukti Ali, will begin next week.
The AGO has named two more suspects: Windi Purnama, an aide to Irwan, and Yusrizki Muliawan, president director of PT Basis Utama Prima, one of the vendors in the project.
The AGO is now also probing potential money laundering in the BTS corruption case.
Investigators questioned three witnesses last week, including the accounting manager of PT Basis Utama Prima, whose shares reportedly are mostly owned by businessman Hapsoro Sukmonohadi, husband of House of Representatives Speaker Puan Maharani.
All the while, speculation continues to swirl around the involvement of even more perpetrators as the case continues to expand.
Tempo reported earlier this week that Irwan of PT Solitech Media Synergy had to distribute Rp 243 billion to ward off any potential investigation into the project. An unnamed House member and an official at the Development Finance Comptroller (BPKP) was thought to be among the recipients of the bribes, although the AGO has yet to confirm any of the reports.
Not long after Johnny was named a graft suspect last month, rumors also emerged that three unnamed political parties were benefiting from Johnny’s corruption, which interim communications and information minister Mahfud MD immediately denied.
Mahfud said last month that the multi-trillion-rupiah telephony project for underdeveloped regions would continue so that further state losses could be avoided.
Without naming names, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said on Monday that it was “only a matter of time” before he announced a definitive replacement for Johnny in the Cabinet.