Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Richest Indonesians & The Ironies

What a coincidence! Out there, Dow Jones quoted Forbes Asia's rich list, naming Sukanto Tanoto (owner of Raja Garuda Mas/RGM) as its Indonesia richest. At home, newspapers quoted SOE Minister Sugiharto pledge his support for state bank PT Bank Mandiri Tbk to take legal action toward recalcitrant debtors. Mandiri had named RGM as one of the debtors with no good faith.

While it's difficult to verify the exact figures, Sukanto's wealth according to Forbes reached US$2.8 billion, well above Putera Sampoerna (2.1), Eka Tjipta Widjaja (2), Rahman Halim (1.8) or R. Budi Hartono (1.4) and Aburizal Bakrie (1.2). In the previous list, Forbes named Halim as Indonesia's wealthiest while Sukanto was not even in the top five list. Wondering how the Forbes list has changed so significantly in the last few months.
Detik.com reported Sukanto is still in the police's fugitive list. But I'm not sure whether he is listed there still.
It's true that Sukanto once named a fugitive. His name also linked closely with Unibank which was closed down in 2001 but none held responsible for third party liabilities in the bank. The case isn't closed yet.
Sukanto's wealth mainly derived from palm oil business. He has pulp & paper empire, and recently oil and gas as well.
Surprisingly, no Sjamsul Nursalim in the top 10 list. Riady family, Tommy Winata, and Mum'in Ali Gunawan are out of top 10 as well. Riady family is partnering with Forbes for Indonesian edition, scheduled early next year.
Like it or not, agree or disagree, Forbes list could help Indonesia's tax officers chasing their tax payments or Bank Mandiri's bargaining position on bad loans. The list also useful for politicians, regent, governor candidates, or hopeful president candidates.
If you follow years of Forbes’ rich list, there is no significant change on the names of Indonesian richest. The difference is only on the amount of wealth & the rankings. The wealthy Indonesians could be categorized in several groups based on how they got their fortunes.
First, cigarette groups. We have Sampoerna family (even though they sold out the cigarette business to Phillip Morris), Wonowijoyo (Gudang Garam), Hartono (Djarum), and Peter Sondakh (Bentoel).
Second, forestry & plantation groups. We have Eka Tjipta Wijaya family (Sinar Mas Group), Sukanto Tanoto (Raja Garuda Mas), & Prajogo Pangestu (Barito).
Third, consumer goods. We have Salim and Wings Group.
Fourth, energy & engineering groups. We have Bakrie family, Panigoro (Medco), Kris Wiluan (Citra).
Fifth, property group. In this group we have Tan Kian (Dua Mutiara), Haliman Trihatma (Podomoro), Tommy Winata-Sugianto Kusuma (Artha Graha), Riady Family (Lippo).
Sixth, manufacturing. In this group we have Nursalim (Gajah Tunggal) for example.
So, mainly they got the fortunes from Indonesia’s rich & cheap resources (natural & human).
While most of these groups have expanded overseas (mainly China, India, or Brazil), Indonesian operations are still their main source of wealth. Most of these conglomerates were hurt by financial crisis, with the exception of cigarette groups.
But they have recovered in the last few years, thanks to the generosity of Indonesian people, the taxpayers. The state bailed out their bad debts. Some surrendered assets, but others managed to escape the financial responsibility easily.
Salim Group, for example, surrendered assets in 107 companies to pay around Rp56 trillion (US$6 billion) debt following the turmoil at Bank Central Asia (BCA). Government sold almost all the pledged assets with recovery rate of around 35%. Nursalim also did the same to pay his Rp28 trillion (US$3 billion) debt, with lower recovery rate.
Government also spent almost US$2 billion to bail out Bank International Indonesia (previously owned by Eka Tjipta’s Sinar Mas, currently controlled by Temasek).
That’s why there is almost no significant change in names listed in Forbes, the latest edition and in 1990s. The fact that Sukanto & Eka Tjipta are listed as number one and third in the ranking sparked criticism about how they created the wealth.
Both Sukanto & Eka Tjipta have strong pulp/paper & plantation (mainly crude palm oil) businesses through APRIL (RGM) Holdings & Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) respectively. Both groups have been the subject of continues allegation of environmental groups over massive deforestation in Sumatra Island.
WWF report few months ago said that APRIL and Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), the Indonesian paper producers, are accelerating the deforestation of Sumatra's jungles in spite of a bid to portray themselves as green.
According to the report, APP has been responsible for about 80,000 hectares of natural forest loss every year, equivalent to roughly one-half of the Indonesia province of Riau's annual forest loss since 2002. As of 2005, the company controlled nearly one-fifth, or 520,000 hectares, of the natural forests left on Riau's mainland. All these forests are under threat, as are any additional forests that APP acquires in its quest to fill its wood supply gap and expand pulp production.
WWF didn't publish the same press release on APRIL. But WWF Monitoring Brief June 2006 elaborated the organization's analysis on APRIL's activities.
Jikalahari (Riau NGO alliance) investigators have found evidence that APRIL's mills accepted wood from legally questionable third party source as late as May 2006. WWF admitted in the report that it calls APRIL to stop sourcing timber from this area until completion of the government legal verification process.
One NGO leader wrote cynically in Indonesian media recently that if you want to be rich, do the forestry business in Indonesia like Sukanto & Eka Tjipta. Other names listed in the Forbes report also have been regularly accused of various illegal practices such as fraud on reforestation funds or involvement in drugs & narcotics trading, gambling operation, or fishy deals with government and the military. But none of them convicted or worse various interest groups make huge chunk of money from the allegations on these richest men.

/Named a Suspect/
Apart of environmental concerns, the Forbes report has also been responded by Indonesia’s largest lender (by asset), Bank Mandiri, which happens to be the largest lender to Sukanto’s RGM. The bank has, several times, classified RGM as the debtor without good faith in settlement of almost US$500 million debts. Mandiri demands an increase in debt installment following the huge jump in pulp prices worldwide.
The day Forbes announced the rich-list, Indonesian minister for state-owned enterprises (Mandiri’s shareholder) pledged his support for Mandiri’s plan to take legal action against recalcitrant debtors, especially RGM. RGM denied all the charges arguing it follows the debt restructuring agreed upon few years ago.
A director at Mandiri was quoted by Indonesian newspapers saying, “You may rich, but pay your debts,” responding the list.
But it’s the police who surprised many when it announced the plan to reopen the investigation on Sukanto, not for the alleged environmental crime or his debts at Mandiri, but on a suspected banking crime that almost untouched in five years.
Just days after Forbes published the list, Indonesian police announced that it has resumed the investigation on Sukanto, named a suspect in a banking crime few years ago. Police declared that the case, involving Unibank---a bank initially owned/controlled by Sukanto and his wife Tinah Bingei, has been reopened after five years of almost no significant progress in investigation despite the fact that Sukanto had been named a suspect.
Unibank was closed down in 2001 leaving the state paying all third party liabilities (Rp3.9 trillion, almost US$400 million) with no shareholders held responsible. Sukanto was named a suspect on irregularities of export L/C worth US$230 million.
"Based on a meeting between Police Chief and Attorney General in August 2006, Sukanto's case has to be reopened and his status is still as suspect. The case is being handled by police team for corruption crime (Tipikor)," Paulus Purwoko, chief of public relations division at National Police Headquarter as reported by Indonesian media.
The sudden announcement failed to surprise the media at the time of eroding trust on the country’s campaign to fight corruption. Many raised the question, would the police be serious this time? Why the police reopen the case after so long? Could this be just part of ‘political’ game?
"Whatever the results might be, the reopening of the case has made Sukanto, well-known for his generosity overseas, shivering," a journalist from respected magazine commented the move. So far, police has not confirmed yet on when they would summon Sukanto for investigation.
The fellow journalist mentioned about Singapore-INSEAD's Tanoto Library or Carnegie Mellon's Tanoto Professorship. The owner of Raja Garuda Mas (RGM) also established Tanoto Foundation, which provide scholarships.
It’s not about his donations that make people doubt the investigation, but mainly the power politics in the country’s corrupt-legal system. Police might finalize the investigation, but state prosecutors may drop the case like what’s happened with the recent corruption allegation on Eddie Widiono (state-owned electricity company PLN).
Other intriguing issue is the unavailability of legal cooperation between Indonesia and Singapore. While Sukanto normally come to Indonesia, he stays in Singapore. “The problem, we have no bilateral agreement on this,” sighed the deputy attorney general Basrief Arief, who is also the Chief of Corruptors Hunting Team.
Besides, the five-year time lag since the Unibank’s closure in October 2001 is critical especially when it comes to witnesses. That’s why Attorney General’s Office said they would start the investigation all over again. This is clearly a big test for the country’s tattered image on corruption eradication campaign. Without serious efforts to end bad governance in Indonesian business, we can’t expect a cleaner sheet in the future rich lists.

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