Beef importer with Australian links caught in quota bribe case
AN INDONESIAN company with deep links to the Australian beef industry has been caught red-handed offering bribes to an Indonesian politician, apparently to circumvent the country's strict quota on beef imports.
A number of Australian exporters use the company, Indoguna Utama, to ship beef to Indonesia, and one company, Mulwarra Export in Sydney, is part-owned by Indoguna's founder, Elizabeth Liman.
Two directors of Indoguna, Juardi Effendi and Arya Abdi Effendi, were arrested by Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission at a city hotel on Wednesday with 1 billion rupiah ($101,000) in cash in the car boot.
They are alleged to have been on their way to deliver a bribe to Lutfi Hasan Ishaaq, the president of the Islamic political party PKS.
Indonesia's agriculture minister, Suswono, represents the party in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's government.
Anti-corruption officers sealed the office of the head of Mr Suswono's department, the director-general of livestock and animal health, as part of the investigation.
Mr Suswono imposed strict beef import quotas in the wake of Australia's short-lived ban on live cattle exports in 2011, on the pretext that Indonesia wanted to become self-sufficient in beef.
The quota, applying to live cattle as well as boxed beef, gutted the export trade with Australia and has resulted in shortages of beef in Indonesia, soaring prices and the inclusion of pork in traditional beef meatballs.
The commission's deputy chairman, Bambang Widjojanto, said the bribe was an attempt by Indoguna Utama to get access to a larger import allowance.
The arrests raise the question whether the quota - 32,000 tonnes of boxed beef this year - has become simply a bribe-raising exercise for PKS, which is part of Indonesia's governing coalition, with two cabinet ministers, including the communications minister.
Indoguna Utama lists five Australian exporters as ''partners'', including Andrews Meat in the Barossa Valley, Jack's Creek Wagyu Beef in Queensland, and Western Meat Packers Group in Western Australia.
Mulwarra Export's owner, Greg Darwell, told Fairfax Media on Thursday that Elizabeth Liman was a passive minority investor in the company. He said he knew nothing about the bribery allegations, and they surprised him.
''I personally, in the 16 years that I've been owner and runner of Mulwarra, have not directly seen any corruption,'' he said.
His company's exports to Indonesia had dropped by 20 per cent under the quota but, he said, it had picked up markets elsewhere, and was growing.
Another Australian exporter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was ''common knowledge'' bribes were ''part of the trade up there, on a daily basis, quota or no quota''.
''They're going to desperate measures to get beef into the country,'' the exporter said.
A spokesman for the Corruption Eradication Commission, Johan Budi, said its investigation would not extend to any Australian companies, and he did not yet know if the agriculture minister would be questioned.
An election will be held in Indonesia next year.