Doing prison time ... Angelina Sondakh. Photo: AFP
As former beauty queen and politician Angelina Sondakh awaited her fate in Jakarta's corruption court this week, her defenders were extolling the intellectual feats of her long-past Australian girlhood.
"Angie has many achievements behind her," said one breathless article in the Harian Terbit newspaper.
At her sentencing pleading last week, Angelina used the merit certificate she received in chemistry at school as one of her 'achievements in science in childhood' and argued that, along with her nine beauty pageant victories and her singing and speech writing, it should earn her a shorter sentence
"Besides being crowned as Miss Indonesia 2001, she was awarded Outstanding Effort in maths, textile and design and scripture at the Presbyterian Ladies College, Sydney, and a Certificate of Merit in Chemistry at the Armidale High School, Armidale, NSW (1994)."
Angelina Sondakh ... her fame qualified her for politics. Photo: AFP
The awards and accolades did not stop there. On her return to Indonesia, Angelina went on to claim the coveted titles of "Champion Miss Pixy Manado, winner and Favourite Cool Girl, Manado … and Miss Intelligence as a Princess".
After winning Miss Indonesia (she did not compete in Miss Universe, 2002), she became a singer and a Paris Hilton-style celebrity without a job. She married a model, converted from Christianity to Islam and finally, was invited to become a politician.
Her fame qualified her for politics in a country where populism trumps ideology every time. Now she has become both a victim and a symbol of Indonesia's corrupt political culture.
After winning Miss Indonesia, Angelina Sondakh became a singer and a Paris Hilton-style celebrity without a job. Photo: AP
Angelina was elected to the house of representatives in 2004 as one of the cleanskin MPs in Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party. A few months later, on an anti-corruption platform, SBY became president.
In 2009, as SBY sought a second presidential term, Angelina lent her popularity to Democratic Party TV ads, where she gave the thumbs-down to corruption. Appearing with her were the president and other up-and-comers, including rising-star politician Anas Urbaningrum.
Now, Angelina is doing prison time, Anas is under a corruption cloud, and the president's party has been wracked with graft cases prosecuted by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which the president himself set up. His party's former treasurer, Muhammad Nazarrudin, is serving an almost five-year sentence and turned supergrass, implicating many other senior members, including Angelina.
Angelina Sondakh ...she was awarded Outstanding Effort in maths, textile and design and scripture at the Presbyterian Ladies College, Sydney Photo: AFP
Most recently, the former sports minister and presidential confidant Andi Mallarangeng was named a suspect.
Angelina's crime has become depressingly familiar — she helped rig a multi-billion dollar bid for the accommodation block for a sports stadium, receiving about $4.5 million in bribes to help make sure the right people (other scions of the Democratic Party) were given the contract.
Whatever graft money did not find its way into their own pockets was channelled into the party's coffers, often to pay people to vote for them.
Angelina's sentence was so light (prosecutors had asked for 12 years, but she received 4.5) that it prompted the headline in the Jakarta Globe newspaper, "Angelina's Jolly".
She was born in 1977 in Armidale, NSW, where her father, Lucky Sondakh was studying, and spent the first five years of her life there.
Angelina returned to Indonesia in 1982, but then came back to Australia for years nine and 10 at the Presbyterian Ladies College, Sydney, and year 11 at Armidale High in NSW.
At her sentencing pleading last week, Angelina used the merit certificate she received in chemistry at school as one of her "achievements in science in childhood" and argued that, along with her nine beauty pageant victories and her singing and speech writing, it should earn her a shorter sentence.
The plea was part of an emotional hearing where she played up her life as a widow, the mother of a young boy (who was hospitalised during the pleading) and two stepdaughters (whom she tried unsuccessfully to introduce to the judges).
However, she also enamoured herself of her alleged co-conspirators by refusing to name or implicate them, and the Democratic party's deputy secretary-general, Saan Mustopa, has said she would be welcomed back into its fold.