Indonesia faces biggest loss of public funds in scandal

Premiums used to cover maturing plans, shady investments in case involving state insurer

Analysts welcomed the sentences and said the scandal will prompt scrutiny of the OJK for not acting sooner. PHOTO: AFP

With a dream of eventually starting his own e-commerce business, Mr Oerianto Guyandi, 54, who was the director of finance at a Jakarta-based media conglomerate until January, made an investment with promised returns that turned out to be too good to be true.

For three years in a row, starting in 2016, Mr Oerianto, through his wife, ploughed their savings - he refused to disclose the amount - into the JS Savings Plan offered by state-owned insurance company PT Jiwasraya. On sale since 2013, it offered guaranteed returns of as much as 13 per cent each year.

That did not happen.

"Our assumption was that it was safe because Jiwasraya is a state-owned company and OJK is regulating the company," said Mr Oerianto, referring to Indonesia's banking and finance regulator, the Financial Services Authority.

He regrets not carrying out more due diligence. "Our assumption was wrong," he said.

The scandal is shaping up to be Indonesia's biggest loss of public funds as premiums were used to cover maturing policies and shady investments dating back a decade.

The insurer has said it cannot pay 16.8 trillion rupiah (S$1.5 billion) in benefits it owes to 17,000 people. Total liabilities amount to 28 trillion rupiah, meaning more defaults may be in the offing.

In comments to the media last December, Jiwasraya's current president director, Mr Hexana Tri Sasongko, who has been in the position since late 2018, called the imbroglio a "ponzi".

Three former senior executives, including former president director Hendrisman Rahim, have been sentenced to life in prison.

On Oct 26, prosecutors with the Attorney-General's Office secured life sentences for two brokers - Heru Hidayat, and Benny Tjokrosaputro, whom Forbes estimated in 2018 to be worth US$670 million (S$915 million).

Benny was found to have laundered the gains through a series of property purchases, including apartments in Jakarta and Singapore, vehicles and at least one shrimp farm. He also used the funds to settle gambling debts, including in casinos in Singapore, Macau and New Zealand.

  • $1.5b

    Amount in benefits that state-owned insurer PT Jiwasraya owes to 17,000 people and which it is unable to pay.

Analysts welcomed the sentences and said the scandal will prompt scrutiny of the OJK for not acting sooner. "This case could be an event that prompts stricter attention to such capital-market abuses and the OJK," said analyst Kevin O'Rourke, author of the business and political intelligence newsletter, Reformasi Weekly.

To be sure, Jiwasraya has had insolvency problems dating back to 2004, when its liabilities outstripped assets by more than 2.8 trillion rupiah.

Ms Sekar Putih Djarot, a spokesman for OJK, said the regulator had pressed Jiwasraya for plans to recapitalise since it assumed responsibilities for overseeing the financial sector in 2013.

"OJK is closely monitoring to ensure the realisation of the shareholders' commitment to restore liquidity, capital and settlement plan to policyholders," Ms Sekar said in a text message.

Starting in 2008, Jiwasraya bought shares in risky illiquid companies controlled by Heru and Benny, whom the court found to have inflated their value through artificial means including stock splits before selling them to Jiwasraya.

Of the 5.7 trillion rupiah worth of shares Jiwasraya held directly, 95 per cent were deemed speculative small cap stocks, Attorney-General Sanitiar Burhanuddin said last December.

In 2013, Jiwasraya unveiled the JS Savings Plan. Revenues from premiums surged from nearly 10 trillion rupiah in 2012 to more than 40 trillion rupiah in 2017. In October 2018, the firm said it could not pay maturing policies worth 800 billion rupiah. Government compensation, promised to begin by March, has yet to materialise.

For Jiwasraya's victims, their lives are on hold.

Ms Yossi Setiawan, 40, has her life savings tied up in the fund.

When her mother took ill, Ms Yossi and her Malaysian husband moved from Malaysia to Bogor to care for her. The pair transferred their savings - she will not disclose how much - to the insurer to cover their daily needs.

"We joined Jiwasraya not because the interest is high but because I thought BUMN is a safe investment," Ms Yossi said, using the abbreviation for state-owned enterprises. "I told my husband to just put all our savings here. Now I realise this was the beginning of our nightmare."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2020, with the headline Indonesia faces biggest loss of public funds in scandal. Subscribe