In the final hours of a two-week-long trial, Indonesia's House Speaker this week dodged severe sanctions by quitting his post right before a verdict was to be announced in his case before the House ethics council. Speaker Setya Novanto was accused of an ethics breach for allegedly attempting to extort $4 billion in shares from US miner Freeport. The case has been described by the ABC as 'one of the biggest' corruption scandals in Indonesia's history.
Setya Novanto poses with Donald Trump in New York, September 2015. (Getty.)
The high-profile case centres on an alleged voice recording of a meeting between Setya, 'gasoline godfather' Muhammad Reza Chalid, and Maroef Sjamsoeddin, president director of Freeport Indonesia. In the recording, which was accepted as evidence by the House ethics council, Setya is allegedly heard requesting a 20% stake in Freeport shares in exchange for a guarantee that the miner's contract will be extended beyond 2017. He uses the names of President Jokowi and Vice President Jusuf Kalla to back his request, while Chief Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan's name is mentioned a total of 66 times in the recording. Setya has since admitted to requesting shares, but said it was only meant as a casual joke.
On Wednesday evening, 15 out of 17 council members had already delivered statements finding Setya guilty when the case was adjourned and Setya promptly quit before a verdict could be announced. The council was near unanimous in deeming Setya guilty of an ethics breach, but was reportedly divided on whether the Speaker should receive moderate sanctions, which would allow him to keep his position as a member of parliament, or severe sanctions, which would remove him from power altogether. By pre-emptively quitting his post, Setya is now able to stay on as an MP, since ethics council law allows for a case to be closed without verdict if a defendant passes away or resigns.
President Jokowi is said to be furious over the case and the corruption it reveals within state institutions. Throughout the trial he made few comments, saying only that the case would be handled according to due process by the House ethics council. It remains to be seen whether Setya's case will be followed up by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which took a back seat to monitor the trial, or the Attorney General, who has labelled Setya a 'corrupter' in response to counter-accusations of defamation leveled against him by Setya. The trial has received nationwide attention and was broadcast live on television throughout the week.
This twist at the end of the week's biggest story didn't make the front page of the Jakarta Globe, because it printed its final edition on Tuesday. The English-language newspaper emerged in 2008 as a high-quality broadsheet intended to rival the decades-old Jakarta Post. Backed by Lippo Group heir John Riady, the Globe assembled a talented team of journalists, photographers, designers and editors who quickly raised the bar for international reporting on Indonesia. By the time I joined as a sub in 2010 the team had formed a buzzing newsroom that was breaking stories. Who can forget the case of Gayus Tambunan, a tax graft convict who was spotted enjoying a day out of prison in a ridiculous disguise at a tennis tournament by a Jakarta Globe photographer?
But the timing of the newspaper's launch, coinciding with the global financial crisis and the rise of digital media in Indonesia, ultimately worked against its success in print. Following experiments in re-formatting the paper as a tabloid, and more recently as a disjointed bulletin that directed readers to the website to read stories in full, the Globe finally decided to drop its print ambitions and move completely online. Few members of the original newsroom remain, with most having moved to other areas of Lippo's BeritaSatu Media Holdings, or to other media outlets as resources dwindled. The next test for the venture will be to see whether the Globe can regain the momentum it needs to assert itself as an attractive online news portal in an increasingly crowded English-language news market.
Another international voice on Indonesia was lost this week when Benedict Anderson passed away in East Java at the age of 79. The American scholar of Southeast Asia was banned from entering Indonesia for most of the New Order period for co-authoring the so-called 'Cornell Paper', which gave an alternative version of events surrounding President Suharto's rise to power in 1965, and the anti-communist massacres that followed. He was finally able to re-enter Indonesia after Suharto stepped down in 1998. Anderson is best known among political scientists for his theory on 'imagined communities', which argues that the modern nation is a constructed political community of otherwise disparate citizens. It's not difficult to see how his theory can be applied to Indonesia, and its 'imagined' identity that unites around 17,000 islands and 300 or so ethnic groups. Anderson, who has two adopted Indonesian sons, was on a trip to visit some of his favourite places in Indonesia when he passed away in Batu, East Java on Saturday night.