Indonesia has come out strongly to refute an opinion piece implying that a consultant from Singapore had paid a Las Vegas firm US$80,000 (S$114,000) to lobby for Jakarta in the United States earlier this year.
Indonesia's foreign ministry yesterday said the issues raised in the article, titled "Waiting in the White House lobby", were "grossly inaccurate, baseless and some are bordering on fiction".
The piece posted on Friday on the New Mandala news analysis website was contributed by Professor Michael Buehler from the University of London. He asked why Jakarta had to pay a lobbying firm to get President Joko Widodo access to Washington insiders during his visit to the US last month, "spending taxpayer money for work the Indonesian embassy could have done".
Accompanying his piece was a copy of an agreement between Singapore-based consultancy Pereira International and R&R Partners, a public relations firm from Las Vegas. The document, purportedly filed on June 17 with the US Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, showed R&R offering its services to Pereira International for US$80,000.
According to the deal, R&R's obligations, among others, included the following: "Attempt to secure opportunity to address joint sessions of Congress during Indonesian President Widodo's visit to the US; and, identify and work with influential individuals, media, public and private organisations and affiliates in the US to support efforts of President Widodo."
The filing was signed by Pereira International chief executive Derwin Pereira and R&R president Sean Tonner.
Dr Buehler, who specialises in South-east Asian politics, said Mr Pereira has worked for "Indonesia's rich and powerful for quite some time", possibly developing ties with them while he was still a journalist stationed in Jakarta and Washington with The Straits Times.
"While Pereira has a track record of lobbying for Indonesian elites, the contract filed with the US justice department does not name anyone in the government who hired Pereira and R&R Partners," he added.
While Dr Buehler did allude to Mr Pereira's "clear links" with Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affair Luhut Pandjaitan, he said there is no evidence Mr Luhut instructed Mr Pereira to pay R&R Partners for its lobbying services, "but the contract raises a few questions".
Mr Luhut told The Sunday Times yesterday that Mr Joko's visit was based on an official invitation from US President Barack Obama and not due to the work of hired guns like Pereira International or R&R. "They could be lobbying to promote Indonesia's trade to take advantage of President Jokowi's visit to the US, which is common practice," said Mr Luhut, referring to the President's popular moniker.
Mr Luhut's comments were backed by the foreign ministry. It said in a statement yesterday that the Indonesian government has not employed the services of lobbyists or used the ministry's budget to do so in the lead-up to Mr Joko's visit to the US.
"Just like other visits by the President, preparation for the US visit was led by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in coordination with other ministries, agencies, parliaments, the Indonesian Embassy in Washington DC, the Indonesian Consulate General in San Francisco, the US Embassy in Jakarta as well as the business community and other stakeholders," said the ministry. "This intensive preparation has enabled the signing of over 18 business deals worth over US$20 billion and a number of (agreements) between the US and Indonesia."
When asked for his comment last night, Dr Buehler said the ministry "corroborates my story that this consultant Pereira was hired without the knowledge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs".
Mr Pereira did not respond to The Sunday Times' request for comments at press time.