Former social affairs minister Juliari Batubara has been sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined Rp500 million for receiving bribes of Rp32.482 billion ($2.25 million) in connection with the government’s social assistance program for low-income families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
State prosecutors could have sought life imprisonment or even the death penalty for Juliari, who was a member of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) until his arrest in late 2020. Instead, prosecutors from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) recommended a sentence of 11 years.
A prominent anti-graft organization, Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), urged the three-member panel of judges at Jakarta Corruption Court to hand down a life sentence, to discourage other senior government officials from engaging in corruption.
ICW researcher Kurnia Ramadhan said Juliari (49) had not only caused public suffering but had also denied receiving the bribes, so the court should give him life imprisonment to create a sense of justice among victims of the social aid corruption.
Jakarta Corruption Court on Monday (23 August 2021) instead handed down a 12-year sentence. Presiding judge Muhammad Damis said Juliari must repay the state Rp14,597,450,000 ($1 million) or have another two years added to his sentence. The court also revoked Juliari’s political rights for four years after he completes his sentence.
Juliari was found guilty of accepting bribes, via middlemen, from businessmen who received government contracts to source and distribute basic supplies to needy families during the pandemic, even though their companies did not meet official selection criteria. The Social Affairs Ministry’s assistance project is worth Rp 5.9 trillion ($409 million).
The court heard that Juliari received a bribe of Rp10,000 for each assistance package of food and essential goods costing Rp300,000, and also received other bribes from the contractors.
He had ordered his subordinates Adi Wahyono and Matheus Joko Santoso to collect the Rp10,000 unofficial fees from the contractors during numerous stages of aid distribution in 2020.
Juliari’s arrest on 6 December 2020 was huge news and sparked massive public outrage on social media, but the case quickly disappeared from the limelight, because just one day later, police coincidentally shot dead six members of the Islamic Defenders Front on a Jakarta toll road. The killings of the FPI members then dominated the headlines and social media gossip.
Juliari had on August 9 made a plea for a complete acquittal, insisting he was innocent. He told the court, “In my mind, only the panel of judges can stop the endless suffering my family has endured, not only humiliation but also slander, for something they do not understand.”
He tried to play the family card even further by arguing that his two children still need him present as a father. He also expressed regret for becoming “entangled” in the case for “failing to supervise” his staff at the Social Affairs Ministry.
The court heard that Juliari used some of the ill-gotten money to rent a private plane and an additional Rp150 million for a dangdut singer named Cita Citata to appear at an event in Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara province, on 27 November 2020. Most of the bribe money, some Rp32.4 billion, was still unused and in suitcases with the aide Matheus, before being confiscated.
Juliari had been appointed minister in October 2019 at the behest of PDI-P. He is the fourth minister in recent years to be convicted of corruption. Former maritime affairs and fisheries minister Edhy Prabowo of the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party was on 15 July 2021 sentenced to five years in jail for corruption over lobster larvae export licenses.
Former youth and sports minister Imam Nahrawi of the National Awakening Party (PKB) was on June 29, 2020, jailed for seven years for receiving bribes. Another former social affairs minister, Idrus Marham, was on April 23, 2019, sentenced to three years in jail for accepting a bribe to finance his effort to become leader of Golkar Party.