Antigraft officials questioned on Friday business tycoon Siti Hartati Murdaya, a financier of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, for allegedly bribing a district head in Central Sulawesi to obtain a land concession for a plantation there.
The businesswoman, who arrived at the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) headquarters at 10 a.m. and left after 10 p.m., denied all allegations of her involvement in the bribery case.
“No, I never bribed anybody,” she said.
It was not immediately clear whether the KPK had declared her a suspect or maintained her status as a witness.
However, with evidence showing that she ordered her employees to hand over Rp 2 billion ($212,000) to Amran Batalipu, the head of Central Sulawesi’s Buol district, Hartati could not avoid the KPK’s investigation, despite her strong political connections with the palace.
The KPK has placed a travel ban on Hartati, the owner of Berca Group and operator of Jakarta International Expo, since June 28, while two employees of her Hardaya Inti Plantation and Amran have been detained for their involvement in the case.
Media have reported that the KPK taped Hartati’s conversation with Amran, with the district head offering his thanks for the money and Hartati asking for 70,000 hectares to be secured for her company.
After Amran’s arrest last month, Hartati acknowledged giving money to Amran but denied it was a bribe.
She said the money that her employee had given to Amran was “social funding.”
Hartati said that because Hardaya Inti, her palm oil plantation, was the largest company in Buol, she was “expected to give donations to the regional government.”
“Why is a donation seen as bribery?” she asked.
Hartati, who was a major supporter of Yudhoyono’s election campaign during the 2009 presidential race, said the donation was meant to subdue conflict between her employees and a group of locals.
“I asked the district chief to help handle it,” Hartati said. “He asked for a donation, and we gave it to him.”
Amran also admitted to receiving the money, with his lawyer adding that it was Hartati’s contribution for his re-election campaign.
KPK deputy chairman Zulkarnain did not deny media reports that the KPK was in possession of Hartati’s taped conversation with Amran, saying that the KPK had sufficient evidence in the case.
“We will use it all in the court,” he said.
Fadjroel Rachman, a political analyst at the Soegeng Sarjadi Syndicate, questioned Hartati’s Rp 2 billion contribution to Amran.
“Don’t tell me that she gave the money for free. She definitely wanted that concession for the money. So the KPK should just name her a suspect,” he said.
Hartati, a member of the ruling Democratic Party’s board of patrons, has supported Yudhoyono’s campaign from 2001 until his re-election in 2009.
In 2001, she circulated a proposal supporting Yudhoyono’s bid to become Megawati Sukarnoputri’s vice president.
In an election at the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), Yudhoyono was defeated by Hamzah Haz.
When Yudhoyono decided to run for president in 2004, Hartati once again offered her help. This time, Yudhoyono won a landslide victory in the country’s first direct presidential election.
Five years later, at the 2009 election, Hartati helped again. On the Yudhoyono-Boediono campaign team, headed by Hatta Rajasa, now the coordinating minister for the economy, Hartati was listed as the vice chair of operations.
An audit report by Usman & Partners submitted to the General Elections Commission (KPU) revealed that Hartati and her company gave billions of rupiah to Yudhoyono’s re-election campaign in 2009.
After the Democratic Party’s Congress in Bandung in 2010, Hartati officially entered the party as a member of the board of patrons.