Ministry officials rewarded themselves with karaoke for a hard day’s work, court hears in COVID-19 aid bribery case

Illustration. Photo: Pixabay
Illustration. Photo: Pixabay

Officials and staff at Indonesia’s Social Affairs Ministry went to a karaoke bar on numerous occasions and paid for their nights out using ill-gotten money in a massive COVID-19 aid bribery scandal, a court heard.

In December 2020, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) arrested then-Social Affairs Minister Juliari Batubara and two senior ministry officials in charge of procuring goods for aid programs, Adi Wahyono and Matheus Joko Santoso. They are on trial for allegedly receiving bribes from contractors who won government contracts to distribute COVID-19 aid, containing basic foods, to the needy.

The Jakarta Corruption Court on Monday heard the witness testimony of a ministry staff named Robin outlining Matheus’ role in the scandal, revealing that some of the kickbacks he received was spent on karaoke at a renowned upscale bar in SCBD, South Jakarta.

“It was for our entertainment after working the whole day,” Robin told the court.

“It was money [to reward] our exhaustion.”

Robin said he and Matheus, along with the latter’s driver and other ministry staff, frequented the bar, but the witness claimed he wasn’t aware that the leisure activity was funded by money linked to the scandal. Harry Sidabukke, who represented two private companies and was arrested for bribing Juliari and the two ministry officials, also tagged along to karaoke on at least four occasions, Robin testified.

The court previously heard that Harry once gave IDR100 million (US$6,930) in “operational money” to Matheus at the bar. That was only a small portion of the bribe money tracked in the scandal, which amounted to IDR32.4 billion (US$2.2 million).

Juliari, with the help of his subordinates Matheus and Adi, are standing trial for skimming IDR10,000 (US$0.69) from each aid package distributed by 63 contractors from May to December 2020. The suspects may face life imprisonment if convicted, but there have been calls to enact a law punishing government officials who steal from disaster aid with the death penalty.

Meanwhile, prosecutors have demanded four years imprisonment for Harry and another bribe-giver as their trial continues.

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