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Corruption Conviction: Former Indonesian Communications Minister Jailed for Accepting Bribes

Indonesian Communication and Information Technology Minister, Johnny G. Plate (center), as seen in a photo posted to his Facebook page on January 22, 2019

Johnny G. Plate is charged with accepting bribes of about $1.2 million in connection with the erection of thousands of telecom towers in outlying areas of the archipelago.

The former minister of communication and information technology in Indonesia, who was the sixth cabinet member of President Joko Widodo to be found guilty on charges relating to corruption, was given a 15-year jail term for receiving bribes.

According to Reuters, the Jakarta Anti-Corruption Court found Johnny G. Plate guilty of accepting payments of 17.8 billion rupiah ($1.14 million) in connection with the building of thousands of cellular towers during a hearing yesterday. The towers were part of a ministry initiative worth 17 trillion rupiah ($1.09 billion) to provide internet connection to the archipelago’s undeveloped and isolated parts.

According to Reuters, Johnny was declared “convincingly guilty of corruption” by Fahzal Hendri, the chairman of the three-judge panel at the Jakarta Anti-Corruption Court.

The attorney general’s office alleges that the conspiracy involved 16 suspects in total, and the court stated that the state lost almost 6.2 trillion rupiah ($396 million) as a result of it. The court further mandated that Plate repay the state 15.5 billion rupiah ($988,000), pay a fine of 1 billion rupiah ($63,765), or serve an extra six months in jail. This was in addition to his prison term.

Prosecutors said that Plate altered the conditions of the procurement and the number of building sites without first undertaking feasibility studies, and that he personally embezzled 17.8 billion rupiah from the project’s money. Plate was detained in May. According to the prosecution, he utilized the money, among other things, to pay for golf outings and a vacation to the United States.

As previously noted, Johnny is the sixth former member of the Indonesian leader’s cabinet to be sentenced to jail on corruption-related allegations. Johnny is a member of the NasDem Party, one of the seven parties in Jokowi’s ruling coalition.

Alongside him are former Youth and Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi, who was found guilty of embezzling money from a National Sports Committee grant and sentenced to seven years in prison; former Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Edhy Prabowo, who was sentenced to five years in prison in July 2021 for his involvement in a corrupt scheme to export valuable lobster larvae; and former Minister of Social Affairs Juliari Peter Batubaram, who was given a 12-year prison sentence for accepting bribes from private contractors in exchange for a government COVID-19 assistance package.

Syahrul Yasin Limpo, the former minister of agriculture for Indonesia and a member of the Nasdem Party, was the sixth cabinet member to be detained last month on charges of fraud pertaining to contracts with private vendors, misuse of authority, and bribery. He has been charged with collecting bribes of around 13.9 billion rupiah ($885,000) via two of his subordinates, who have also been identified as suspects.

Syahrul Yasin Limpo’s Arrest on May

The week before his arrest, Syahrul Yasin Limpo resigned as minister of agriculture in order to concentrate on the upcoming legal proceedings against him. The Associated Press reports that late yesterday, video showed Syahrul “arriving at the commission’s headquarters in handcuffs and wearing a black leather jacket, black cap, and a mask,” just one day after the Commission, also known by its Indonesian abbreviation KPK, publicly designated him as a suspect.

According to the news magazine Tempo, KPK officers raided Syahrul’s office and official apartment in Jakarta, as well as a private property in Makassar, in late September, when he was abroad on a vacation to Europe. The publication stated that KPK seized an Audi A6 vehicle, papers, and cash valued at 30 billion rupiah ($1.9 million).

KPK’s deputy chairman Johanis Tanak reportedly stated at a press conference late on Wednesday that Syahrul is thought to have accepted bribes of around 13.9 billion rupiah ($885,000) via two of his subordinates who have also been designated as suspects. This information is according to the AP.

Syahrul, a former South Sulawesi governor, was detained for corruption for the sixth time in a short period of time after he was named agricultural minister in October 2019, at the beginning of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s second term.

Idrus Marham, the former minister of social affairs, was given a three-year prison sentence in April 2019 for taking bribes from a businessman in exchange for the ability to build a coal-fired power plant project in Sumatra. Imam Nahrawi, the former minister of youth and sport, was found guilty of embezzling funds from a National Sports Committee grant that June and was given a seven-year jail sentence.

The former minister of maritime affairs and fisheries, Edhy Prabowo, was found guilty in July 2021 of participating in a dishonest plan to export important lobster larvae and was given a five-year jail term. The next month, former Social Affairs Minister Juliari Peter Batubaram received a 12-year prison sentence for accepting bribes from private contractors related to a COVID-19 aid package from the government.

There seems to be a discrepancy in the number of corruption cases brought against both current and previous Jokowi cabinet members. On the one hand, it shows that, in spite of Jokowi’s promises to reform the government, corruption still thrives at the highest echelons of the Indonesian government. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Indonesia dropped from 85th place in 2019 to 96th place in 2021 and 110th place in 2022 since 2019.

However, it might also be seen as an indication that the system is partially operating as planned. None of these ministers would have gone on trial in the first place if there had been actual impunity.

Having said that, this discrepancy could well be a result of the KPK’s political prejudice in carrying out its cases. Even though Nasdem was a member of Jokowi’s expansive seven-party coalition, the party alienated Jokowi last year when it supported Anies Baswedan, a well-liked opposition figure, to run for president the following year. Since then, Jokowi has called Nasdem a “outsider” inside his alliance. In May, he informed the media, “Let’s say what it is, Nasdem has belonged to its own coalition.” Anies and Jokowi have a tense past; in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial race, Anies used religious emotions to defeat Jokowi’s successor.

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