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As the chief continued his own investigation, he found further evidence suggesting why. Bank documents confirm the money was subsequently transferred to him. Two weeks later, the police mothballed the investigation. Putra declined to answer questions relating to this payment. CBIP declined our requests for an interview. CBIP suffered no tangible consequences from its brush with the law, and went out in search of yet more land to add to its portfolio.

The Company of Ghosts by Berlie Doherty

Soon, CBIP would be drawn into a far bigger scandal. By the beginning of , all the pieces were in place. Cornelis and his partners had set up the shell companies, Hambit was ready to issue the licenses and CBIP was prepared to buy them. The partners drew clear roles. Elan would handle administrative duties. Edwin would oversee the logistics of clearing dense rainforests. Cornelis would deal with their political patron. The licenses covered almost 60, hectares, enough to make them the largest landowners in the district. The concessions overlapped with Tuyun and dozens of other villages, including those trying to keep plantations at bay.

The deals were structured so that the full amount was only payable to Cornelis and his partners once the companies had advanced through the permitting process. Done properly, the permitting process can take years. For these companies, Hambit made sure it took a matter of weeks. To do so he had to ignore the fact that environmental impact assessments had not been carried out.

The Company of Ghosts by Berlie Doherty - review

That decision meant the affected villagers did not know about the projects for months more and rendered the process illegal. But it also ensured more money flowed before the election. But they also each retained a small percentage in the companies. As paper licenses were transformed into real, sprawling plantations, they would make much more.

Peace in the Company of Ghosts

The partners were proud of their success. They became a tight-knit group, drinking beer together on balmy nights in Palangkaraya. But they remained bound to the bupati who was responsible for their swiftly changed circumstances. And for Hambit, their job was not over. After some small talk, Jaya told Iswan he planned to enter the race for bupati of Gunung Mas. With a large oil palm estate of his own, and a cousin who was governor of the province, Jaya had both the resources and the connections to mount a credible challenge to the incumbent. Iswan could offer Jaya the glow of association with a grassroots activist and proven organising skills.

I accept the offer. But the election would not be fought on the basis of such commitments. By , it was an open secret that campaigns were less a battleground of policy than a competition over who could spend the most money.

To begin with, candidates bribe the political parties that decide who gets on the ballot. The parties sell their support to the highest bidder, illegally charging millions of dollars in resource-rich districts. The money lines the pockets of party elites. Adnan Topan Husodo, head of the NGO Indonesia Corruption Watch, told us that some candidates sought to buy off all the parties, closing off the contest at this stage.

Once on the ticket, the costs keep stacking up. Candidates stage concerts featuring famous pop singers, the most popular of whom charge tens of thousands of dollars to perform on the campaign trail.

They bankroll large success teams that take the message to voters across sprawling constituencies with limited infrastructure. Enlisting the help of local power brokers, such as imams and village chiefs, is key to galvanising voters. These figures expect to receive something in return for their support. Other methods are less subtle and clearly illegal, but ubiquitous.

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The perception is that candidates who fail to pay will not be viewed as credible. The cumulative costs of these methods are enormous. The more resources a district has to be exploited, the higher it rises. Many hopefuls stake their own fortunes on their chances for victory, or go deep into debt, risking personal ruin.

Hospitals set aside extra beds after elections for those overcome by the psychological impact of a failed bid. But few candidates are able to bear the cost alone. Most are driven to forge alliances with wealthy backers.


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Challengers can promise future access to government contracts or permits. Incumbents can fill the coffers in advance, trading on their power while in office.

Whoever wins takes office in hock to private interests. Some politicians have broken the cycle, turning their back on the need to solicit or spend dark money. They have sought to attract voters through popular policies instead, often explicitly standing on anti-graft platforms. As Berenschot and Aspinall observe, such candidates have found success in urban areas with an educated middle class, an active media and a diversified economy. It is far more difficult to run an honest campaign in places where the economy is concentrated in one industry, such as palm oil or mining, which can adopt an outsized influence over the political scene.

He appointed Cornelis, who now sat atop a fortune in the wake of the CBIP deals, as his campaign treasurer. Their spending power was visible for all to see. They marshalled the backing of seven political parties. But the full extent of their spending prowess would not emerge until after the votes were counted. The election took place on September 4, A week later Hambit was declared the winner, with a shade over half the vote.

Jaya, languishing in second place with 39 percent, announced he would challenge the result at the Constitutional Court. He was also accused of abusing his power over the state apparatus to secure his victory. Jaya claimed that voter cards had not been distributed to all villages, that hundreds of fictional voters had been created, that hundreds of legitimate voters had been expunged from the rolls, and that the organising committee had handed out additional ballots so that their supporters could vote more than once. That year had already seen dozens of disputed elections, and a small coterie of individuals, it would later emerge, were peddling access to Akil.

Hambit eventually got to him via Chairun Nisa, a national lawmaker whose austere appearance and advocacy for religious interests belied her role in the coming scandal. The talks culminated in a meeting between Chairun Nisa and Hambit in a lounge on the 18th floor of the luxury Hotel Borobudur in Jakarta. Nisa was joined by her husband, Hambit by Cornelis. Nisa showed Hambit her final text from Akil.

Hambit turned to his campaign treasurer. Elan rushed it to him within a day. Edwin, who was then on the resort island of Bali, received the same request via phone and arranged for a mutual acquaintance to deliver the money to his partner. Cornelis provided the final third of the money himself. Edwin and Elan would later plead ignorance , each claiming during the trial they had neither known nor asked why their partner needed a fortune, in cash, within a day. The KPK prosecutors were sceptical of the notion that the money had been given as a loan, rather than as part of some reciprocal transaction.

That, in turn, could have led to the licenses and brought the vast concessions now in the hands of CBIP into its scope. But the source of the cash, Pulung said, was beyond the scope of the bribery investigation. The agency already had enough evidence to convict Akil, its main target, as well as Hambit and Cornelis. Meanwhile, its hands were full trying to determine how many other politicians had bribed the judge.

There was neither the time nor an obvious reason to press deeper into Gunung Mas. The trail ended with Edwin and Elan, and the land deals remained undiscovered.


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Edwin and Elan did not respond to requests for comment on this article. But deliberations over the disputed result went ahead in the Constitutional Court, without Akil. With Hambit languishing behind bars, Arton, his running mate and one-time deputy, was inaugurated as bupati.