August 14, 2017 / 5:00 PM / 2 years ago

Indonesia graft witness worried about safety before his death

JAKARTA (Reuters) - A witness in a $170 million Indonesian graft investigation linked to a national electronic identity card system told a witness protection agency he was worried about his safety just weeks before his suspected suicide, officials said.

FILE PHOTO: The office of Indonesia's anti-graft agency, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), is seen in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 24, 2010. REUTERS/Crack Palinggi

Johannes Marliem, 32, whose U.S.-based company had a contract to supply the ID cards, was pronounced dead on Thursday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head after a standoff with police in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.

Earlier that week, on Tuesday, U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation officers executed a federal search warrant at the same residence, said FBI spokesperson Laura Eimiller, declining to give further details.

Last month, Marliem, had been in contact with Indonesia’s Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK) on several occasions and also told media he had evidence in the form of digital recordings of his dealings with Indonesian politicians implicated in the scandal.

“He said he was rather scared because he had 500 gigabytes of evidence,” LPSK deputy chairman Hasto Atmojo Suroyo told Reuters.

Marliem was offered protection by authorities in late July but had not formally applied for it, Suroyo added.

“He asked for clarification on how to apply,” he said. “But then he suddenly died.”

Marliem’s company, PT Biomorf Lone Indonesia, won the tender to supply automated fingerprint identification technology in a case that dates back to 2009, and centers on allegations that sums ranging from $5,000 to $5.5 million - money generated by marking up the costs of the ID card program - were divided up in a room in parliament.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has already named the parliamentary speaker, Setya Novanto, as a suspect in the investigation into the ID card scandal and is targeting at least 37 people including politicians and officials.

Novanto has denied any wrongdoing over the scandal in which 2.31 trillion rupiah ($173.07 million) is alleged to have been stolen.

Another LPSK official, deputy chairwoman Lili Pantauli Siregar, said if the agency had received the application it could have taken immediate action to assist him.

Instead, she said, Marliem had sent her a link to a fundraising page, requesting $5 million in donations.

“I understood with this he was looking for donations to live,” she added.

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the page that included a section stating that to reveal more information “the whistleblower needs protection, and other resources to stay alive”.

According to a KPK indictment, Marliem made sums of $14.88 million and 25.24 billion rupiah from the project.

According to media reports, Marliem had been interviewed by KPK investigators overseas. Siregar did not specify what nationality he held but said he would have been given protection whether he was an Indonesian citizen or not.

Ed Winter, assistant chief of investigations at the LA County coroner’s office, said that Marliem’s death had been ruled a suicide.

Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman Officer Liliana Preciado said that Los Angeles SWAT officers had responded on late Wednesday afternoon to the residence where he died, finding a man barricaded inside. They entered the residence after midnight and found the man had shot himself and was dead.

A woman and a minor left the building late at night, police spokeswoman Detective Meghan Aguilar added, declining to give further details.

The KPK said on Saturday Marliem’s death would not derail its investigation and Indonesian police have said they are working with the U.S. FBI to investigate his death.

Additional reporting by Melissa Wen in San Francisco; Writing by Fergus Jensen in Singapore; Editing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Hay

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