Antigraft officials questioned the son of former corruption convict Artalyta Suryani on Thursday in connection to a bribery case implicating Hartati Murdaya, a major financial backer for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Priharsa Nugraha, a spokesman for the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), said Artalyta’s son, Rommy Dharma Setiawan, was questioned in his role as the owner and a director of palm oil company Sonokeling Buana.
“He was questioned as a witness in the Buol case,” Priharsa said.
He was referring to the case of Amran Batalipu, the head of Buol district in Central Sulawesi, who was arrested recently for taking a bribe to issue permits to a palm oil company owned by Hartati.
In its investigation of the case, the KPK identified Sonokeling as another company that received a permit from Amran. However, Teuku Nasrullah, Rommy’s lawyer, said that neither his client nor Artalyta had ever paid a bribe to obtain the permit.
He also denied reports that Artalyta owned Sonokeling, saying she had no shares in the venture and had only been linked to the case because of her son’s ownership of the company.
“In 2010, Amran offered Rommy the opportunity to do business in Buol, and Rommy agreed, but only on the condition that he did not have to pay any bribes or gifts,” Nasrullah said at the KPK office.
“So Amran just made three requests. The first was that Sonokeling had to be serious about operating its plantation. He wanted it to be operating within the first year, not like two previous companies that renewed their permits three times but never started planting.”
He said the second request was for Sonokeling to allocate part of its concession to the local community of some 6,000 oil palm farmers. “Very few companies are willing to support such farmers and run their own operations simultaneously, because of the cost, but Sonokeling agreed and even promised to allocate 40 percent of its land for them,” Nasrullah said.
The third request was that Sonokeling should use its influence with the newly empowered farmers to get them to vote for Amran when he came up for reelection.
The election was held on July 12, just five days after Amran was arrested by the KPK at his home in Buol. Amran, who was still on the ballot despite being wanted since fleeing a KPK bust on June 26, lost to Amiruddin Rauf Pusadan.
“The company directors had recommended the farmers vote for Amran in the election, but we can’t dictate what they do in the ballot box,” Nasrullah said.
Others who have been arrested and named suspects in the case include Anshori and Gondo Sudjono, the general manager and operations director of Hardaya Inti Plantation, a company owned by Hartati.
The KPK has also imposed a travel ban on Hartati, a major contributor to Yudhoyono’s 2009 re-election campaign and a member of the board of patrons at the president’s Democratic Party.
Others hit with travel bans in the case are Totok Lestiyo, the chief director of Hardaya Inti, and company employees Sukirno, Bernard, Seri Sirithorn and Arim.
Additional reporting from Antara