Scandal in Indonesia: Minister denies extortion claims, defends President
JAKARTA, Indonesia – It is being coined potentially the biggest corruption scandal in Indonesia in recent history, but a senior minister denied accusations that the government and the President had any hand in an extortion attempt allegedly made by the camp of Indonesia’s parliament speaker Setya Novanto. (READ: Political scandal threatens Jokowi presidency)
Luhut Panjaitan, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minster for Political, Legal & Security Affairs and a close aide of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, was on the hot seat on Monday, December 14 before the parliament’s ethics committee that is investigating the case.
Panjaitan said there was no truth to the claims that Novanto got approval from Panjaitan to extort $1.8 billion worth of shares from Freeport McMoran Inc – in exchange for a contract extension for the US mining giant to operate in Indonesia. (READ: ANALYSIS: Freeport deal a victory for Jokowi)
“My relationship with Novanto is limited to his work as speaker and mine as coordinating minister,” he said.
He said he has not “been involved in any business” since he has taken public office, and urged an end to politicking adding the claims are causing “financial damage” to Indonesia.
The scandal first came into light after Freeport made public the recording between Freeport Indonesia president director Maroef Sjamsuddin and Novanto.
In the recording, the man alleged to be Novanto is accompanied by businessman Muhamad Riza Chalid. Chalid is heard using the names of President Joko Widodo and the vice president as he makes his demands, saying Panjaitan approved the deal to hand over shares and asked Novanto to negotiate for the President. (READ: Indonesia Freeport chief: Lawmaker wanted stakes, attempted extortion)
A defiant Panjaitan said he also does “not care about (the recording),” where his name was allegedly mentioned 66 times.
“I have not even heard the recording,” he said.
Novanto, from the opposition Golkar Party, has also denied any wrongdoing, while Jokowi has called for a fair and transparent investigation into the matter.
Freeport-McMoRan operates one of the world's biggest gold and copper mines in the eastern Indonesian region of Papua. The company is in talks with the government about extending its contract in Indonesia, which expires in 2021.– with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com