INDONESIA - Following the disclosure that a close friend of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, identified as Sengman Tjahja, could have played a role in the bribery case surrounding the government's beef-import policy, more questions were asked about the possible role of more influential individuals in the scandal.
Other than Sengman, last Friday's testimony from Ridwan Hakim, son of Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) chief patron Hilmi Aminuddin, indicated that more members of the First Family's inner circle could be involved in the beef importation scandal.
In a hearing at the Jakarta Corruption Court last week, prosecutors played a wiretapped phone conversation between Ridwan, former PKS chairman Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq and a woman referred to by both as Bunda Putri.
In the conversation, Luthfi told Ridwan that "Bunda influences [mengkondisikan] decision makers."
Ridwan declined to reveal the identity of Bunda, only saying that she was his business mentor.
Several news outlets, however, reported that Bunda refers to Sylvia Sholehah, a close friend of First Lady Ani Yudhoyono, who was speculated to have also played a go-between role for politicians and government officials with project contractors for the graft-ridden Hambalang sports complex project.
She was first mentioned in the investigation report of Mindo Rosalina Manulang, former marketing director of PT Anak Negeri, a company owned by former Democratic treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin.
"Wafid Muharram [former secretary to the Sports and Youth Affairs Minister] said that there was a businesswoman recommended by Angelina Sondakh [former Democratic Party lawmaker] who wanted to do the project," Mindo said in a copy of the report, which was made available to The Jakarta Post recently.
"And there was also an entrepreneur who was recommended by the Cikeas household department, whose name I forgot," she said.
In the conversation, Cikeas referred to Yudhoyono's family estate in Bogor, West Java.
On May 28, Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigators summoned Sylvia, who is also affectionately called Ibu Pur, as a witness in the Hambalang case.
In its July 15, 2013, edition cover story, Tempo wrote that Sylvia, whom it referred to as a "mysterious woman" in the Hambalang case, was the wife of Purnomo, a retired military official who graduated from the Armed Forces Academy (AKABRI) in 1973, the same year as Yudhoyono.
Also on Monday, more details emerged about Sengman's notoriety.
A Jakarta-based lawyer, who filed a graft allegation report on Sengman to the KPK, said that Sengman, a native of Palembang of Chinese descent, had known Yudhoyono when the latter served as commander for the Sriwijaya territorial military command in South Sumatra.
The lawyer recently told the Post that Sengman played an important role as one of SBY's early supporters in his 2004 presidential bid. He said that in return for the favour, Sengman got a plot of land for a cheap price located in a strategic location in the capital city of South Sumatra.
Responding to the claim that Sengman was acting on behalf of Yu-dhoyono, the State Palace denied the charge. "It's not true that the person named Sengman was a special envoy [for the President]," presidential spokesperson Julian Aldrin Pasha said late last week.
KPK Deputy Chairman Bambang Widjojanto said that, if true, the roles of Sengman and Bunda could prove that there were many power brokers who peddle their influence to rig government projects.
During the trial, one of the KPK prosecutors said that they would summon Bunda.
Bambang, however, ruled out the option simply because the names of both Sengman and Bunda did not appear in the dossier.
"Ridwan should have given the information earlier in the investigation and not during the trial. It appears that he tried to trick us," Bambang told reporters on Monday.