Former Indonesian President’s Close Aide Convicted

Jero Wacik, once one of Indonesia’s most powerful public officials and a close confidant of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was sentenced on Feb. 10 to four years in prison and fined RP5.7 billion for embezzlement and taking kickbacks during his terms as tourism and culture minister and energy minister, despite testimony by both Yudhoyono and Jusuf Kalla, the current vice president, as character witnesses.

Jero was pronounced guilty of having contributed to Rp5.7 billion (US$418,502) in state losses during his term as tourism and culture minister and later as energy minister in Yudhoyono's administration. He was also found guilty of taking Rp10 billion in kickbacks as energy minister, believed to be a fraction of what he stole. He was also ordered to pay a corresponding Rp5.7 billion in restitution. He has a month to pay or the government will seize his assets, according to local media.

Prosecutors for the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, had demanded nine years in prison plus RP18 billion in compensation for diverting operating funds for his personal use. But in defending his decision to go for the lesser sentence, the judge argued that Jero’s wife Trisna is gravely ill from cancer and that Jero must still pay for his daughters’ college tuition. He also told the KPK to unfreeze Jero’s wife’s bank accounts and those of one of his daughters, saying they weren’t related to Jero’s criminal activity.

Jero thanked both Yudhoyono and Kalla for their character defense. Although Yudhoyono didn’t testify, he sent a letter to the judges praising Jero for contributing much to the country as a public official over the decade of his presidency. Kalla testified in January that there was nothing wrong with using operational funds for non-budgetary expenses, including for paying domestic bills.

Jero refused to accept responsibility for his crimes, describing his sentence as a “reminder that for all ministers to control their subordinates because their faults will become your responsibility” and saying he hadn’t watched them closely enough, insisting that the only charges against him should have been over mere negligence.

However, an industry insider said that "Under Jero, the energy ministry was seen as both corrupt and ineffective. He paid little attention to what was going on in a strategic sector of the economy and the shenanigans he and his people were involved in were an open secret."

Jero was the country’s top oil and gas regulator when he was arrested in 2014. He had no experience in the energy industry but he was a key strategist for the then-ruling Democratic Party headed by Yudhoyono. At the time of his arrest, investigators said they were investigating reports that the bribes were actually intended to finance the party’s nominating convention. At about the same time, Rudi Rubiandini, the chairman of upstream oil and gas regulator SKKMigas, was taken into custody on bribery charges as well.

At the time, the KPK said it was investigating whether the bribes received by Rudi were actually intended to be passed to the Energy Ministry and the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party, which was early on praised for Yudhoyono’s Reformasi slogan, ended up after 10 years in power mired a succession of corruption charges including a construction kickback scandal that claimed the party's chairman, Anas Urbaningrum, and Sports Minister Andi Mallarangeng, a close protégé of the president; and a number of lesser officials.

Last year, the former religious affairs minister Suryadharma Ali, a member of the United Development Party, was sentenced to six years for misusing funds in his keep for Indonesians to go on the hajj.

In another scandal in Yudhoyono’s coalition, Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq, the chairman of Indonesia's Islamist Prosperous Justice Party, known by its initials PKS, resigned after one of his top aides was found naked in a hotel room with a college girl while accepting a black suitcase stuffed with Rp1 billion ($103,125) in bribes from meat importer Indoguna Utama executives. Lufthi is expected to go to trial soon. So far the KPK, although defanged to a large extent by allies of Megawati Sukarnoputri, the head of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, has continued its perfect record of never having lost a case in court.

Jero’s former subordinates at the tourism and culture ministry were quoted as telling the court the minister used the embezzled funds to pay for personal expenses including family travel, massage parlors, his wife’s upscale birthday party and other misuses. The court was told he ordered his underlings to charge expenses for fake working trips to cover the misuses.to pretend to take working trips to cover his use of the funds.

When he took over energy ministry in 2011, according to prosecutors, Jero also ordered the ministry's secretary-general, Waryono Karyo, to get more money from the units in the ministry in order to cover operational funds, which he was said to have deemed too meager.