Ex-minister ‘donated graft money to Indonesian Church’

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

June 27, 2023

By UCA News reporter

Thousands of dollars from canceled govt project went to an archdiocese, Catholic university, court is told

Thousands of dollars donated by a former Indonesian cabinet minister to the Catholic Church were ill-gotten gains from corruption in a multi-million-dollar government project, a court was told at his trial on June 27.

Prosecutors told the Central Jakarta Corruption Court that funds donated by Johnny Gerard Plate, a former communications and informatics minister, were proceeds from graft in a 4G mobile communications project worth about 10 trillion rupiah (US$ 667 million).

The funds were donated by Plate, a Catholic, in March 2022, a month after he visited Kupang, the capital of Christian-majority East Nusa Tenggara province.

According to the indictment, Plate donated one billion rupiah (some US$66,600) to the Kupang archdiocese and 500 million rupiah to Widya Mandira Catholic University.

The prosecutor said that Plate, who served as minister from October 2019 to May 2023, obtained the funds from Anang Achmad Latif, director of the Telecommunications and Informatics Accessibility Agency, a unit in his ministry that handled 4G transceiver projects.

The Base Transceiver Station 4G project was supposed to provide internet access to disadvantaged areas in East Nusa Tenggara and Papua provinces. However, the project was stopped as many towers were not functioning.

Plate ordered Latif, a ministry official, “to send money for the benefit of the defendant Johnny Gerard Plate,” the indictment said.

Plate, the fifth minister in President Joko Widodo’s administration to face corruption charges, was also accused of telling Latif to send 200 million rupiah to flood victims in East Flores Regency and 250 million rupiah to the Timor Evangelical Christian Church, a Protestant group in Kupang, in 2021.

Plate is also accused of enriching himself by up to 17.8 billion rupiah.

The former minister denied the charges.

Azas Tigor Nainggolan, a Catholic lawyer, told UCA News that if the donated money came from corruption, it “should be returned.”

“That would be a wise move because the money would be the proceeds of crime and a clear sign that the Church is also against corruption,” said Nainggolan, who is the coordinator of the Indonesian bishops’ Advocacy and Human Rights Forum.

He said the Church should not be blamed, because it did not know the money was the result of graft.

Plate, a former general secretary of the Democratic National Party, had studied at the Ruteng diocese-run Pius XII Minor Seminary on Catholic-majority Flores Island.

The businessman-turned-politician is known for making donations to the Church.

He was the chairman of the 2020 National Christmas Celebration Committee and is on the advisory board of the Vox Populi Institute, a Catholic lay organization.

Divine Word Father Philipus Tule, rector of Widya Mandira Catholic University, told UCA News that “it is true that some 500 million rupiah were given as a donation from the Minister of Informatics and Community to Arnold Catholic Education Foundation to support  a program increasing the WiFi bandwidth at the university.” 

“We didn’t know it was from corruption. I will ask the foundation to return it if the court requests it.”