The speaker of the House of Representatives, Setya Novanto, has dominated political discussion in recent weeks due to incredible revelations that he attempted to shake-down Freeport, Indonesia’s biggest single taxpayer, for an incredible $4 billion worth of shares in the company.
Now, as every semi-informed expat in Indonesia knows, the country’s legions of corrupt bureaucrats often shake down businesses for ‘lunch money’. When TBI Kelapa Gading was raided in 2009, then manager Helmy Vramerryan was forced to cough up Rp 5 million for employing a British teacher illegally on a business visa. It was also normal for police officers to turn up for a ‘present’ right before the Christmas/New Year period. And think that they were probably doing this to every small business in the massive city. The money involved in these extortion and shake down rackets must be truly enormous. However, the Freeport extortion case shows that these routine shake downs in suburbia are nothing compared to the massive Mafia business which goes on at the apex of the Indonesian political system.
The director of Freeport and Indonesia’s former top spook Maroef Sjamsuddin recorded a conversation in which Setya Novanto and Muhammad Reza Chalid, a tycoon, suggested that Freeport hand a 20% share of Freeport over to President Jokowi and VP Kalla. The conversation went as follows:
SN: Kalau nggak salah, Pak Luhut waktu itu bicara dengan Jim Bob. Pak Luhut itu sudah ada yang mau diomongin.
MR: Gua udah ngomong dengan Pak Luhut, ambilah sebelas, kasilhlah Pak JK sembilan. Harus adil, kalau nggak, rebut.
The final part is priceless. Loosely translated, Reza stated that Jokowi needed an 11% cut and Kalla needed a 9% cut. He said, “It has to be fair. If not the President and Kalla will squabble (like small children).”
So here we have an attempt, caught on tape, to extort billions from the biggest taxpayer and investor in the entire country. And we hear, with no apparent irony, that the President and VP will be reduced to childish squabbling if they don’t get a fair cut of the corruption money each.
But today there has been a very Indonesian twist to the entire squalid extortion attempt. Setya Novanto, a man caught on tape trying to extort Freeport using the President’s name, has had the nerve to accuse Sudirman (who broke the story) of defamation, for repeating what Setya himself said on the tape! So we now Setya claiming to have been defamed by his own voice! It is defamation to repeat what he himself said because it blackens his ‘good name’.
As we have often said on this blog, the abuse of the concept of defamation in Indonesia is completely out of control. Defamation (which this blog has often been accused of, even by legal representatives) seems an endlessly elastic concept which now includes stating the truth if it puts someone in a bad light! But Setya’s novel idea of defamation as including things that he himself said has twisted even more out of shape. It’ll be interesting to see what further violence the terminally corrupt Indonesian elite can do to the notion of defamation in the coming months.