Indonesian Gov’t Official Accused of Using COVID Aid to Pay for Luxury Karaoke Nights Out

·3 min read
Eric Thayer/Getty
Eric Thayer/Getty

Government officials in Indonesia paid for karaoke nights out using funds slated for COVID-19 relief efforts, according to a ministry employee who testified in Jakarta’s corruption court this week.

Robin Saputra, a staffer at Jakarta’s Ministry of Social Affairs, said Monday that senior ministry official Matheus Joko Santos had invited several employees to frequent post-work outings at high-end karaoke bars last year. Saputra claimed he didn’t know at the time that the outings were paid for using funds designated for the procurement and distribution of pandemic aid packages for the public.

“It was for our entertainment after working the whole day,” Saputra proclaimed on the witness stand, according to CNN Indonesia and Coconuts Jakarta. “It was money [to reward] our exhaustion.”

The case against the senior officer is part of a larger corruption scandal that rocked Indonesia in December last year, when Santos, along with two other officials—including the former head of the ministry, Juliari Batubara—were arrested by anti-corruption officials on bribery charges.

The officials, who were in charge of managing Indonesia’s COVID social-assistance campaign, were accused of accepting $1.2 million from private companies who sought federal contracts for COVID aid distribution and asking them to set aside a percentage of funds for each relief package as a kickback. The aid packages consisted of basic food essentials for citizens in need.

Authorities reportedly uncovered seven suitcases and three backpacks stuffed with bribery money after the head of the ministry turned himself in.

“That social assistance is really needed by the people and I will not protect those involved in corruption,” the chief of Indonesia’s anti-corruption commission said after news of the officials’ arrest first broke.

“We will not stop here,” he added. “We will closely watch how the government’s social assistance is being procured and channeled during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

If convicted, the officials face possible sentences of life in prison.

According to the staffer’s testimony, Santos wasn’t the only one to attend the karaoke nights. Saputra said that both the minister and the other implicated official, Adi Wahyono, had joined the post-work festivities, and that they had extended the invite to a man who represented two of the 63 private contractors charged with distributing the aid packages.

One of the karaoke spots frequented by the officials is Club Raia, described by online city guides as a “luxurious and elegant” karaoke venue, whose patrons are tended to by five-star chefs and national award-winning mixologists.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s COVID death toll has climbed to upward of 45,000 deaths, with roughly 1.7 million cases, according to a New York Times database. This week, two cases of the aggressive variant ravaging India were recorded in the country—stoking fears of another novel coronavirus wave on the horizon.

News of the alleged karaoke transgression coincided with reports Wednesday of another pandemic scandal in Indonesia—in which pharmaceutical workers are suspected of having reused nasal swabs for passengers at an Indonesian airport.

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