Asia Sentinel, Written by Philip Dorling
Friday, 11 March 2011
US embassy in Jakarta has serious doubts about the Indonesian president's own integrity
When Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono won a surprise victory in Indonesia's 2004
presidential elections, the United States Embassy in Jakarta hailed it
as "a remarkable triumph of a popular, articulate figure against a rival
[in*****bent president Megawati Sukarnoputri] with more power, money, and
The former army general and security minister has gone on to win
international accolades for strengthening governance, promoting economic
reform, and his efforts to suppress the Islamic militant group Jemaah
While visiting Jakarta last November, US President Barack Obama
applauded Indonesia's democracy and "the leadership of my good friend
However Yudhoyono's record may have to be reviewed after secret US
embassy cables, leaked to WikiLeaks and provided to Fairfax Media,
reveal allegations of corruption and abuse of power that extend all the
way to the presidential palace.
According to the diplomatic cables, Yudhoyono, widely known by his
initials SBY, personally intervened to influence prosecutors and judges
to protect corrupt political figures and put pressure on his
adversaries. He reportedly also used the Indonesian intelligence service
to spy on rivals and, on at least one occasion, a senior minister in
his own government.
Yudhoyono's former vice-president reportedly paid out millions of
dollars to buy control of Indonesia's largest political party, while the
President's wife and her family have allegedly moved to enrich
themselves on the basis of their political connections.
The US embassy's political reporting, much of it classified
"Secret/NoForn" – meaning for American eyes only — makes clear that the
continuing influence of money politics, which extends, despite the
President's public commitment to combating corruption, to Yudhoyono
The US embassy cables reveal that one of Yudhoyono's early presidential
actions was to personally intervene in the case of Taufik Kiemas, the
husband of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri. Taufik reportedly
used his continuing control of his wife's Indonesian Democratic Party
(PDI-P) to broker protection from prosecution for what the US diplomats
described as "legendary corruption during his wife's tenure."
Taufik has been publicly accused, though without charges being laid
against him, of improper dealings in massive infrastructure projects
heavily tainted with corruption. He is believed to have profited from
deals relating to the US$2.3billion Jakarta Outer Ring Road project, the
US$2.4 billion double-track railway project from Merak in West Java to
Banyuwangi in East Java, the US$2.3billion trans-Kalimantan highway, and
the US$1.7 billion trans-Papua highway.
In December 2004, the US embassy in Jakarta reported to Washington that
one of its most valued political informants, senior presidential adviser
TB Silalahi, had advised that Indonesia's Assistant Attorney-General,
Hendarman Supandji, who was then leading the new government's
anti-corruption campaign, had gathered "sufficient evidence of the
corruption of former first gentleman Taufik Kiemas to warrant Taufik's
However, Silalahi, one of Yudhoyono's closest political confidants, told
the US embassy that the president "had personally instructed Hendarman
not to pursue a case against Taufik."
No legal proceedings were brought against the former "first gentleman,"
who remains an influential political figure and is now speaker of
Indonesia's parliament, the People's Consultative Assembly.
While Yudhoyono protected Taufik from prosecution, his then
vice-president, Jusuf Kalla, allegedly paid what the US embassy
described as "enormous bribes" to win the chairmanship of Golkar,
Indonesia's largest political party, during a December 2004 party
congress, US diplomats observed firsthand.
"According to multiple sources close to the major candidates, Kalla's
team offered district boards at least Rp200 million (over US$22,000) for
their votes," the US embassy reported. "Provincial boards — which had
the same voting right, but also could influence subordinate district
boards — received Rp500 million or more. According to one contact with
prior experience in such matters, board officials received down payments
...and would expect full payment from the winner, in cash, within hours
of the vote."
US diplomats reported that, with 243 votes required to win a majority,
the Golkar chairmanship would have cost more than US$6 million.
"One contact claimed that [then Indonesian House of Representatives
chairman Agung Laksono] alone — not the wealthiest of Kalla's backers —
had allocated (if not actually spent) Rp50 billion (more than US$5.5
million ) on the event." The US embassy cables further allege that
Yudhoyono had then cabinet secretary Sudi Silalahi "intimidate" at least
one judge in a 2006 court case arising from a fight for control of
former president Abdurahman Wahid's National Awakening Party (PKB).
According to the embassy's contacts, Sudi told the judge "if the court
were to help [Wahid] it would be like helping to overthrow the
The intervention of "SBY's right-hand man" was not successful in a
direct sense because, according to embassy sources with close ties to
the PKB and lawyers involved in the case, Wahid's supporters paid the
judges Rp3 billion in bribes for a verdict that awarded control of PKB
to Wahid instead of a dissident faction. However, Yudhoyono's strategic
objective was achieved as external pressure on Wahid's "precarious
position" forced the PKB to reposition itself to support the
Other US embassy reports indicate that Yudhoyono has used the Indonesian
State Intelligence Agency (BIN) to spy on both his political allies and
The president reportedly also got BIN to spy on rival presidential
candidates. This practice appears to have begun while Yudhoyono was
serving as co-ordinating minister of political and security affairs in
former president Megawati's government. He directed the intelligence
service to report on former army commander and Golkar presidential
candidate Wiranto. Subsequently, at a meeting of Yudhoyono's cabinet,
BIN chief Syamsir characterised Wiranto as a "terrorist mastermind."
Through his own military contacts Wiranto learnt that he was the subject
of "derogatory" BIN reports, but when he complained he was told by
presidential adviser TB Silalahi that no such reports existed.
The leaked US embassy cables are ambiguous on the question of whether
Yudhoyono has been personally engaged in corruption. However, US
diplomats reported that at a 2006 meeting with the chairman of his own
Democratic Party, Yudhoyono "bemoaned his own failure to date to
establish himself in business matters," apparently feeling "he needed to
‘catch up' ... [and] wanted to ensure he left a sizeable legacy for his
In the course of investigating the President's private, political and
business interests, American diplomats noted alleged links between
Yudhoyono and Chinese-Indonesian businessmen, most notably Tomy Winata,
an alleged underworld figure and member of the "Gang of Nine" or "Nine
Dragons," a leading gambling syndicate.
In 2006, Agung Laksono, now Yudhoyono's Co-ordinating Minister for
People's Welfare, told US embassy officers that TB Silalahi "functioned
as a middleman, relaying funds from Winata to Yudhoyono, protecting the
president from the potential liabilities that could arise if Yudhoyono
were to deal with Tomy directly."
Tomy Winata reportedly also used prominent entrepreneur Muhammad Lutfi
as a channel of funding to Yudhoyono. Yudhoyono appointed Lutfi chairman
of Indonesia's Investment Co-ordinating Board.
Senior State Intelligence Agency official Yahya Asagaf also told the US
embassy Tomy Winata was trying to cultivate influence by using a senior
presidential aide as his channel to first lady Kristiani Herawati.
Yudhoyono's wife and relatives also feature prominently in the US
embassy's political reporting, with American diplomats highlighting the
efforts of the president's family "particularly first lady Kristiani
Herawati ...to profit financially from its political position."
In June 2006, one presidential staff member told US embassy officers
Kristiani's family members were "specifically targeting financial
opportunities related to state-owned enterprises." The well-connected
staffer portrayed the President as "witting of these efforts, which his
closest operators (e.g. Sudi Silalahi) would advance, while Yudhoyono
himself maintained sufficient distance that he could not be implicated."
Such is the first lady's behind-the-scenes influence that the US embassy
described her as "a cabinet of one" and "the President's undisputed top
The embassy reported: "As presidential adviser TB Silalahi told [US
political officers], members of the President's staff increasingly feel
marginalised and powerless to provide counsel to the President."
Yahya Asagaf at the State Intelligence Agency privately declared the first lady's opinion to be "the only one that matters."
Significantly, the US embassy's contacts identified Kristiani as the
primary influence behind Yudhoyono's decision to drop vice-president
Kalla as his running mate in the 2009 presidential elections.
With Bank of Indonesia governor Boediono as his new vice-presidential
running mate, Yudhoyono went on to an overwhelming victory. The
president secured more than 60 per cent of the vote, defeating both
former president Megawati, who had teamed up with former special forces
commander Prabowo Subianto, and vice-president Kalla, who allied himself
In January 2010 the US embassy observed: "Ten years of political and
economic reform have made Indonesia democratic, stable, and increasingly
confident about its leadership role in south-east Asia and the Muslim
world. Indonesia has held successful, free and fair elections; has
weathered the global financial crisis; and is tackling internal security
However, America's diplomats also noted that a series of political
scandals through late 2009 and into 2010 had seriously damaged
Yudhoyono's political standing.
A protracted conflict between the Indonesian police and the national
Corruption Eradication Commission had damaged the government's public
anti-corruption credentials, while a parliamentary inquiry into the
massive bailout of a major financial institution, Bank Century, called
into question the Vice-President's performance as former central bank
One prominent anti-corruption non-government organization privately told
the US embassy that it had "credible" information that funds from Bank
Century had been used for financing Yudhoyono's re-election campaign.
Former vice-president Kalla strongly criticized the bailout, alleging
that the Bank of Indonesia under Boediono had been negligent in
supervising Bank Century and arguing that the bank should have been
closed as its failure was due to fraud perpetrated by major
Against this background the US embassy reported that Yudhoyono was
increasingly "paralyzed" as his political popularity rapidly diminished.
"Unwilling to risk alienating segments of the parliament, media,
bureaucracy and civil society, Yudhoyono has slowed reforms. He is also
unwilling to cross any constituencies ...Until he is satisfied that he
has shored up his political position, Yudhoyono is unlikely to spend any
political capital to move his reform agenda, or controversial aspects
of US -Indonesia relations, forward."
Over the past 13 years Indonesian democracy has undoubtedly
strengthened. The Suharto dictatorship has been replaced by a
competitive political system characterized by robust debate and free
However, as the leaked US embassy's reports show, in what is only a
glimpse of the inside workings of President Yudhoyono's tenure, some of
the secretive and corrupt habits of the Suharto years still linger in
Indonesian presidential politics.
Another version of this story appeared in The Age in Melbourne, Australia.
Furious Indonesian Response to WikiLeak Cables
Written by Our Correspondent
Friday, 11 March 2011
Yudhoyono spokesmen, others, denounce questions over SBY’s integrity, summon US ambassador
The Indonesian government has launched a furious, multi-pronged response
to stories emanating from leaked US diplomatic cables purporting to
call into question the integrity of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
and his wife, Kristiani.
A recount of the cables
, provided by the WikiLeaks organization, was published Friday in Asia Sentinel
and The Age
the denials, much of what the cables allege has been circulating on the
rumor mill in Jakarta for months as Yudhoyono has increasingly lost his
gloss as a reformer. Although, as the story points out, the WikiLeaks
cables are "ambiguous" about whether Yudhoyono himself is corrupt.
Faizasyah, the palace presidential staff member for international
relations, told reporters "The fact is that the diplomatic cables were
only raw data taken from shoddy meetings and sources. The information
was raw, it was only rumors and twisted facts."
Yudhoyono spokesman, Denny Indriyana, said that "What Wikileaks wrote
was a result of chitchat from US Embassy wires and not intelligent data.
It's sexy for news but that's all. The Age wrote their story without
investigation and based the story entirely on Wikileaks."
Law and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto told reporters in
Jakarta that Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa would summon Scot
Marciel, the US Ambassador to Indonesia, "to express Indonesia's strong
protest against the diplomatic reports that were obtained through
WikiLeaks," and would demand that Marciel make a public statement
regarding the case.
For its part, the embassy issued a statement
on its website saying that "as the Secretary of State has said, the
United States deeply regrets the disclosure of any information that was
intended to be confidential, including private discussions between
counterparts or our diplomats’ personal assessments and observations.
Our official foreign policy is not set through these messages, but in
Washington. Our policy is a matter of public record, as reflected in
our statements and our actions around the world."
The US response
called the Wikileaks publication "extremely irresponsible and we
express our deepest regrets to President Yudhoyono and the Indonesian
people." It went on call Yudhoyono a "very strong partner..Indonesia’s
first directly elected president, and a leader who has guided Indonesia
through its journey into democracy."
The statement added that
"Indonesia and the United States are bound together by a web of
historical, cultural, and economic ties that span the Pacific and by our
shared values and aspirations, and our partnership is one of equals,
grounded in mutual interests and mutual respect."
Indonesian Vice President Boediono, on a working visit to Canberra, met
with Indonesian journalists to deliver a statement saying that "The
accuracy of the information taken from WikiLeaks about President Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono which also appeared in some media must be questioned.
The sources were unconfirmed and unverified raw notes from diplomatic
cables. I have complete confidence in the personal integrity and
credibility of my President. President SBY and I share the same
conviction to develop our nation and its people through continuing our
commitment to reforms, eliminating corruption, and ensuring good
In Djoko Suyanto’s text to reporters, he said that
the President and First Lady Kristiani Yudhoyono denied the accusations,
and said they did not commit corruption or abuse their power. "Let
alone influence the judicial process. That’s not true."