Wednesday 10th April 2019 was a dramatic day in the Bandung District Court, West Java, Indonesia. Sunjaya Purwadisastra, the former Regent of the Cirebon area, was on trial. He was charged with abusing his power as a local politician by accepting bribes to appoint people to his administration.
During his trial, in tears, Purwadisastra dramatically claimed he had done something that he wasn’t even on trial for. He claimed he had received money from South Korean corporation Hyundai Engineering and Construction, in exchange for granting land for the construction of the controversial Cirebon 2 coal plant project. Court documents put the amount that Sunjaya had received at 6.5 billion rupiah (USD $460,000). Hyundai Engineering & Construction were one of the main contractors on the plant, which is under construction in Purwadisastra’s district.
This news rocked the Cirebon 2 coal plant project and its sponsors. The Korea Times characterised these payments from Hyundai to Purwadisastra as bribes. The spotlight was put on the international financiers of the project, such as the Korean Government (via its state-owned financial institution, KEXIM) the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), the three Japanese megabanks, Mizuho, SMBC and Mitsubishi UFJ, and the Dutch bank ING.
By investing in this project, the banks were not only taking on a financial risk, a climate change risk and an air pollution risk. They were now taking on a corruption risk too.
In May, Purwadisastra was convicted and jailed for five years for accepting bribes for political appointments. Indonesia’s Anti Corruption Commission, the KPK, said that Purwadisastra would face a separate trial in the Hyundai case.
Court documents released by the court lay bare the elaborate scale of the alleged bribery plot. The documents go into detail about how a fake contract was set up between Hyundai and a local Indonesian company, and then funnelled to Purwadisastra’s staff, who then transferred the money to a bank account created on Purwadisastra’s order, in someone else’s name. The court documents name specific individuals in Hyundai and in other companies who allegedly facilitated the payments.
In addition, the documents also allege that Purwadisastra paid bribes to a list of local Cirebon authority figures, including other politicians and officials from the army and police.
But there are reasons to be concerned. The Indonesian Parliament has just rushed through a law weakening the power of the independent KPK, at a time when 23 sitting members of parliament are suspects in corruption cases.
Indonesian civil society is also concerned that the appointment of a former police general accused of gross ethics violations will further jeopardise the KPK’s ability to investigate the Cirebon case.
Meanwhile local resistance continues. Residents of Cirebon have written to the Japanese conglomerate Marubeni, who hold the biggest share in the Cirebon 2 project, to ask them to end their involvement in the project.
This comes against a backdrop of other corruption concerns in the Indonesian coal industry that should spook investors, such as the former President-Director of PLN (Indonesia’s state-owned power company) being indicted for ‘facilitating bribery’ in a completely separate coal plant case.
The Cirebon 2 case must be fully investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. The world is watching.
Adam McGibbon is a senior campaigner with the international anti-corruption organisation Global Witness.