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Indonesian Church to return graft-tainted donations

Ex-minister Johnny Gerard Plate was jailed for 15 years in a telecom corruption case
Ex-minister Johnny Gerard Plate is seen with Indonesian President Joko Widodo is this file image.

Ex-minister Johnny Gerard Plate is seen with Indonesian President Joko Widodo is this file image. (Photo: Instagram profile @johnnyplate)

Published: November 10, 2023 11:50 AM GMT
Updated: November 10, 2023 12:29 PM GMT

Catholic officials in Indonesia have vowed to return donations from former government Johnny Gerard Plate who has been convicted and jailed in a multi-million dollar telecom graft case.

Plate, 67, a Catholic businessman turned politician, was accused of corruption during his tenure as the federal Minister of Communications and Information Technology incurring the state a loss of eight trillion rupiah (US$537 million).

The corruption scandal stemmed from the construction of communications infrastructure, particularly the Base Transceiver Station [BTS] 4G project, in remote areas, including in Christian-majority East Nusa Tenggara Province.

He was detained on May 17 by the Attorney General’s Office and later sacked by the administration of President Joko Widodo.

On Nov. 8, the Corruption Crimes Court sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment. He was ordered to pay a fine of one billion rupiah, a subsidiary of 6 months in prison, and pay compensation for state losses of 15.5 billion rupiah.

Anang Achmad Latif, director of the Telecommunications and Informatics Accessibility Agency under Plate’s ministry, was sentenced to 18 years, and Yohan Suryanto, a former Human Resources Expert Development at the University of Indonesia, the project consultant, was handed 5 years jail term.

The verdict said a portion of the graft funds went to church institutions – one billion rupiah [US$63,877] to the Kupang archdiocese; 500 million rupiah to Widya Mandira Catholic University; 200 million rupiah to flood victims in East Flores Regency and 250 million rupiah to the Timor Evangelical Christian Church, a Protestant group in Kupang.

Father Ambros Ladjar, treasurer for the Kupang Archdiocese, said he was ready to return the funds.

"I am waiting for the order for the confiscation of funds from the prosecutor's office," he said on Nov. 10.

He said that he had been questioned by the prosecutor's office regarding the donation after Plate was named a suspect.

Divine Word Father Yulius Yasinto, chairman of the Arnoldus Catholic Education Foundation, which oversees Widya Mandira Catholic University, said he was also ready to return the funds and was waiting for instructions from the prosecutor's office.

He said he had been questioned by the prosecutor's office where he was told he would be given instructions on the procedure for returning the funds.

"Until now we have not been informed again," he said.

Father Yasinto said this case is an important lesson for the future to be careful in accepting donations from state officials.

He said that he had consulted and discussed with legal experts and other experienced parties to ensure against donations originating from illegal funds.

"They have provided several measures for the future so that we don't get trapped in a situation like that again," he said.

Plate made the donation spontaneously after he delivered a speech during his visit to Widya Mandira Catholic University in 2022, he claimed.

“The situation is really beyond our control. Suddenly in front of all, we were offered the fund. We didn't have time to carry out checks, like asking for a statement that they are not from illegal funds,” he said.

“It's also unethical to publicly ask about the source of the funds," he said.

The Base Transceiver Station 4G project was supposed to provide internet access to disadvantaged areas in East Nusa Tenggara and Papua provinces. However, the project was stopped as many towers were not functioning.

The total project cost was estimated at 10 trillion rupiah.

Plate studied at Pius XII Minor Seminary run by Ruteng Diocese in Catholic-majority Flores Island.

He has been involved with various Catholic lay groups and is known for making donations to the Church and Church-run institutions.

Plate is the fifth cabinet minister in President Joko Widodo's administration jailed for corruption.

Last August, Juliari Peter Batubara, a Protestant and former social affairs minister was sentenced to 12 years in jail for embezzling more than US$2 million in Covid-19 relief program funds. The Jakarta Corruption Court also fined him 500 million rupiah in lieu of six months imprisonment.

Setya Novanto, a former chairman of the House of Representatives, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2018 for conspiring with dozens of other people to steal between US$170-440 million in funding for a new electronic identity card system.

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