Setya Novanto: I was just joking about wanting Freeport shares

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  • Setya Novanto, Speaker of the House of Rerpresentative. TEMPO/Dhemas Reviyanto

    Setya Novanto, Speaker of the House of Rerpresentative. TEMPO/Dhemas Reviyanto

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - House of Representatives (DPR) Speaker Setya Novanto had a slip-up, again. Last week, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Sudirman Said filed a complaint against the speaker to the DPR's ethics council. Setya allegedly misused the names of President Joko Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla by asking for Freeport Indonesia stocks. A transcript of Setya's conversation with Freeport Indonesia's CEO Maroef Sjamsuddin and businessman Muhammad Riza Chalid suddenly came to light.

    Setya, a bigwig in Golkar Party, denied he had improperly mentioned the President. He claimed to have demanded shares in the mining company in jest. "It was just a joke," Setya told Tempo reporters Budi Setyarso, I Wayan Agus Purnomo, Ayu Primasandi, Hussein Abri Yusuf and Nur Haryanto in an interview at his office in the DPR building last week. 

    * * * *

    How did the meeting came about?

    I was approached by Maroef Sjamsuddin at the office on April 27 around 2pm. He spoke for about two hours, explaining Freeport's vision and mission, how many workers it had and the thousands of hectares that Freeport occupied. He explained it in great detail.

    Did he have any specific request?

    Maroef said divestment was required and so an extension of the contract was needed. Otherwise, Indonesia would be brought to arbitration court. I was shocked. I wondered why that was. He then explained that Freeport was a big company, which had invested big (in Indonesia) and wanted to continue operating until 2041. I thought the extension was only until 2021. "Yes, Pak Nov. But if the situation continues, we won't be able to." Then he said, "You as the (DPR) speaker can talk to the President."

    Did you convey this to the President?

    At that time, I replied okay. Look: This is the jurisdiction of the executive branch. When I happen to be with the President, on a visit or something, I will tell him. When I did meet the President, I told him about Freeport's problem and asked for his advice because the CEO had asked about it.

    What did the President say?

    He said, "It's not until 2021, Mr. Speaker." It seems the President wanted Freeport to build a smelter in Papua, as promised. "In Papua, there's no electricity yet. Basically, it should be according to regulations and the law, to benefit the Indonesian people, for the welfare of the people. We must look at which is more important, Mr. Speaker."

    At the second meeting, you brought along businessman Moh. Riza Chalid?

    Before I met Maroef again at the Ritz-Carlton on May 13, I was talking with a few friends, including Muhammad Riza Chalid, at my child's birthday. I told him about Freeport being sensitive about the arbitration case. Pak Riza reminded me to be careful. So, I asked him (to come along to the meeting) because he was an experienced businessman.

    When I met Maroef again, Riza cautioned me to be careful about Maroef. At the next meeting, Riza had a bad feeling about things because Maroef asked me something that was not right. It turned out to be right: He blackmailed me.

    Why did you feel you were being blackmailed? Freeport just wanted its contract extended.

    I was puzzled, too. I had no intention to ask for shares and no intention to use the President's name. My relationship with the President is good. I have good discussions with the ministers, too. It was a joke but it became serious. Apparently it was to entrap me. I also have no issue with Maroef because I just met him.

    In what capacity did you meet with Freeport?

    It was in my personal capacity, not as DPR leadership. There was only the three of us when we had the second and third meetings. I'm sure he recorded it. Who else? Because there was no one else. He never came with anyone else. I told myself: Uh oh, I'm caught. I'm trapped.

    What was the third meeting about?

    The last meeting was at the Ritz-Carlton on June 8. Pak Maroef asked if we could meet. I thought everything had been explained. Why did he want to meet again? And he wanted to meet at the Ritz. I became suspicious. So, after we spoke for a long time, we spoke very carefully when we spoke about the divestment shares.

    How much of the divested shares were offered?

    How about a 30-percent divestment? How about 51 percent? The government wanted 51 percent. So, according to current regulations, I thought, why was he so enthusiastic? Maroef offered, "So, how about it Pak Riza, will you take or buy shares?" Pak Riza rejected it. He said, " I don't want it, it's not my area. I don't have that big amount of money."

    But in the transcript, you clearly mentioned the President and the Vice President on the amount of shares. 

    First of all, I'm unlikely to misuse the President's name. I regard the President and the Vice President as symbols of the nation, which I should defend and attend to. I know that as long as the people's interests were concerned, as in the Freeport's case, the President would look at accountability. Second, about the shares, I know the rules. Of course, about the shares, there are codes of ethics applicable to all companies, in Indonesia as well as in the rest of the world, the FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act). I know the regulations well, especially regarding Freeport. Even spending (Rp)1 million would have to be accounted for, let alone shares controlled by the New York Stock Exchange, where every source of money and who buys it is carefully monitored. It was just a joke, light conversation, but Maroef treated it seriously. Like when we spoke about private jets and being happy. We were just kidding around.

    You repeatedly mentioned Luhut B. Pandjaitan's name.

    Just in passing. My relationship with Pak Luhut is good, but nothing substantive about Freeport. That recording should be thoroughly checked. There are many parts at the beginning and at the end that are missing. They seem to have been cut at certain moments. In my opinion, all this just doesn't make sense. I was really explaining that I did not handle the extension, shares or used influence. I can guarantee that 1,000 percent.

    Is there a business connection with Riza Chalid?

    I'm aware that as DPR speaker, there are many officials or businessmen who seek me out to find solutions for further interests, like investments. I've known Pak Riza for decades. I've never had any business dealing with him. He has many other friends.

    What about the privileged note from the DPR speaker to Pertamina in favor of a company allegedly owned by Riza Chalid? 

    I don't know. It had a different letterhead. You want to see what it should like (shows a letter from the DPR speaker's office). Clearly, we never issued that letter. (Hani Tahapari, head of the DPR speaker's administration office, said the letter was fake because her office never issued it. On the other hand, Pertamina has acknowledged receiving the letter and discussed it during a management meeting-Ed.)

    What will you do while the DPR ethics court looks at your case?

    I defer my case to the MKD (the DPR's ethics court). That body underlines the DPR (existence). The DPR's reputation lies with the MKD, which has done its work well.

    People see you as a slippery person, managing to avoid being implicated in many major cases.

    First, I pray and talk to my wife when I'm confused. I ask myself: Why do I always have problems? I met Donald Trump and it became a problem. Is it because I'm too good? My fault is that I like to help people, but I keep being dragged down. That's the thing. This morning, my wife told me, "Dear, in my opinion, just stop helping people." (*)