Agriculture Minister Suswono has admitted that he discussed Indonesia’s beef shortages with the former Prosperous Justice Party chairman early this year in Medan, as the investigation into a scheme to sell beef import licenses continues to implicate the party.
Suswono said he thought it was strange that party chairman Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq discussed the need for more beef but did not request a increase in the import quota.
“From what I recall there was no [request for additional beef import quota]. And yes, [he talked] about supply shortages,” Suswono said in testifying at the trial of Ahmad Fathanah, Luthfi’s aide, at the Jakarta Anti-Corruption Court on Thursday.
Suswono said the Medan meeting, which was also attended by Maria Elizabeth Liman, president director of beef importer Indoguna Utama, was initiated by Luthfi through his aide, Soewarso.
Soewarso also testified at Fathanah’s trial, confirming the existence of the meeting in the North Sumatra capital.
“On the night of Jan. 10, 2013, I had dinner with Maria Elizabeth Liman. Maria asked [me] to inform Suswono about the beef crisis,” Soewarso said.
Soewarso also said that when the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) arrested Fathanah, Luthfi immediately contacted him for a meeting at the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) headquarters.
Suswono said he was not close to Fathanah, but that he met with him three times, the first of which was in Makassar, South Sulawesi.
“In Makassar on the way to a breakfast invitation from the Makassar mayor, he [Fathanah] joined [us] in the car. At that time [PKS members] Anis Matta and Fahri Hamzah were present. I was a little bit surprised to see how he acted, as if he knew me. At that time I was told that his name was Olong,” Suswono said.
He added that the second meeting took place at the Agriculture Ministry when investors from the Middle East came to visit him. Fathanah helped as a translator after Luthfi recommended him.
Suswono said his third encounter with Fathanah was in Medan at a meeting with Luthfi and Maria on Jan. 11, 2013.
PKS cadres, including as Suswono, Anis and Fahri, who had their photo taken with Fathanah, have since denied knowing him after he was charged with bribery and money laundering in the beef import quota scandal. Nawawi Pomolongo, the judge who presided over Fathanah’s trial, expressed irritation at their denials.
“When things have been exposed like this everyone claims that they didn’t know that he was part of PKS,” Nawawi said.
Suswono’s ministry is suspected of having received bribes to ramp up the 2013 beef import quota for Indoguna Utama. The company last year filed two requests to add 500 tons to the ministry’s beef import quota but was rejected after failing to meet the criteria. Luthfi allegedly promised Indoguna he would arrange for the ministry to increase the quota, but allegedly asked for a kickback, received by Fathanah.
The accusation is that for every kilogram of imported beef supplied by Indoguna, it would pay him Rp 5,000 (55 cents).
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