By: Dewi Kurniawati

The 51-year-old Indonesian tycoon-politician Hary Tanoesoedibjo has upgraded his portfolio as a strong business ally of US-President Donald Trump after signing several business deals since 2015, including a proposed Trump hotel in Bali.

Just like Trump, Hary Tanoe, as he is universally known, built his fortune, an estimated $1.1 billion, in real estate and media on a mountain of debt. The mogul indeed is sometimes referred to as this country’s version of Trump. He vaulted onto the national stage from a relatively modest background as the son of a local businessman in Surabaya.

In another parallel to his more famous friend, in 2011, Tanoe launched JKT48, an all-girl idol singing group, from his MNC Tower headquarters. He is said to have been close to Siti Hediati Hariyadi, 58, known as Titiek, the second daughter of the late strongman Suharto, a relationship that reportedly played a role in his development of his media empire.

With the US President now on a 11-day swing through South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines – but not Indonesia – the spotlight nonetheless swings to some of Trump’s controversial friends. Besides Tanoe, they include such notables as House Speaker Setya Novanto, now under investigation by Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission, who with Tanoe was welcomed to Trump’s dais during the presidential campaign. Setya is accused of involvement in what has been called the biggest scandal ever to hit Indonesia’s Legislature.

Others who have won Trump’s praise include Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, the subject of the US Justice Department’s biggest-ever kleptocracy investigation and Thai junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, who ended democracy in his country, both of whom were invited to the White House, and Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, who Trump praised for an “unbelievable job” for his murderous anti-drug campaign, which has taken more than 10,000 lives.

Then there is Hary Tanoesoedibjo. Like Trump, as chairman and CEO of MNC Group, his portfolio includes real estate, media as well as beauty pageants.  And, like Trump, he isn’t free from scandal. Just like Donald Trump. Around four months ago, the National Police officially named him a suspect for allegedly attempting to intimidating an Attorney General’s Office (AGO) official last year.

National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Requinto said in Jakarta that the police had notified prosecutors about Tanoe’s status through a letter dated June 15, saying. “The police leadership has allowed its investigators to commence a criminal investigation with Hary as a suspect.”

The announcement ended days of uncertainty about Tanoe’s status after he underwent a series of police questionings. He was reported to the police for allegedly threatening the head of the AGO sub-directorate for special crimes, Yulianto, who handled an investigation into the businessman’s allegedly suspicious Rp10.75 billion (US$807,360) tax restitution claim in 2009.

That hasn’t slowed him down. Not long ago, Tanoe said he is considering a run for the presidency. He started his own political party the United Indonesia Party (Perindo) and began his political safari throughout the country wearing a Peci, a hat mostly used by Muslims, although he himself is an ethnic Chinese.

Hary in a Peci

Tanoe ran unsuccessfully in 2014 as vice presidential candidate with former Army General Wiranto, who is currently serving as a coordinating minister for politics and security under President Joko Widodo.

The connection with the US president started in 2015, when he made a deal with Trump Hotels to build two Trump-branded resorts in the regions of regions of Bali Island and West Java province.

The current resort on the property in Bali is the Pan Pacific Nirwana, which announced it would close at the end of July this year for demolition, making room for the new resort and golf course to be known as Trump International Hotel at MNC Bali Resort. Hundreds of local workers are being laid off.

MNC Group bought the Bali Nirwana resort in 2013 from the Bakrie Group, owned by one of the business associates of the late strongman Suharto, who led Indonesia into stunning corruption during his 31 years in office, ending in 1998 with his fall from power. The Trump Organization signed up in August 2015 to the redevelopment of the site.

“It’s a big complex, more than 100 hectares, to build a hotel, villas, condominiums, also to build a country club — that is also with Mr Trump,” Tanoe was quoted as saying by the ABC in January.

The Trump Organization will manage the hotel, country clubs and golf courses with the Trump family heavily involved in the project.

His political party, Perindo also officially declared its support for Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, comparing the newly inaugurated governor with Donald Trump. He said he decided to support Anies Baswedan and deputy governor Sandiaga Uno because the pair represented the underprivileged.

“Like Perindo’s spirit that favors the ‘little people,’ we need leaders who are concerned about the economic conditions of the little people,” Tanoe said during his support declaration. The party and the pair signed a political contract, which stated their agreement, among others, to develop the capital and improve residents’ welfare.

The declaration was also attended by Gerindra party head Prabowo Subianto, who ran unsuccessfully against Joko Widowo for the presidency in 2014, and who is considered a frontrunner for the 2019 race.  It pays to have friends in high places.

Dewi Kurniawati is an Indonesia-based journalist and regular contributor to Asia Sentinel