Indonesia’s anti-graft court on Tuesday began a trial for a former communication and information technology minister who was charged with corruption over the construction of mobile phone transmission towers in remote parts of the country.
Prosecutors allege that Johnny G. Plate changed the terms of the 8 trillion rupiah ($533 million) procurement project and the number of construction sites without conducting feasibility studies and that he personally enriched himself with 17.8 billion rupiah ($1.2 million).
Anang Achmad Latif, the director of an agency under the Communications and Information Ministry, and Yohan Suryanto, a development expert from the University of Indonesia, were indicted alongside Plate for similar charges.
Prosecutors also said Plate asked Latif for 500 million rupiah ($33,353) a month from March 2021 to October 2022, with the money coming from a consortium company that worked for the project.
Plate, who was part of the government coalition NasDem party, is the fifth minister from President Joko Widodo’s administrations to be charged with corruption. Four other members of Widodo’s Cabinet have been sentenced to prison terms in corruption cases, casting a shadow over Widodo’s efforts to clean up the government while he looks for a successor after his term ends in 2024.
The construction project involving Plate was initiated at the end of 2020 to provide mobile phone coverage to more than 7,900 blank spots in Indonesia’s outermost, underdeveloped and remote areas of Papua, Sulawesi, Borneo, Sumatra and East Nusa Tenggara provinces.
Prosecutors say Plate met Latif and businessman Galumbang Simanjuntak in Jakarta in 2020 to discuss plans for the 4G BTS infrastructure project and supporting projects. The implementation work later involved companies affiliated with Simanjuntak.
Plate was arrested on May 17 after being questioned as part of an investigation by the attorney general’s office in Jakarta. He was apprehended along with five other suspects, including three from the private sector, after some 60 people were questioned about the procurement process.
Plate’s arrest sparked speculation over the fate of the NasDem party, which is part of the government coalition along with seven others. NasDem had earlier endorsed a popular opposition politician, Anies Baswedan, as a presidential candidate in 2024. Widodo has referred to the party as an “outsider” in the coalition.