The Mysterious Letters
The letter of exemption from the trade ministry, owned by a number of steel importers, raised suspicions. Looking into several old government projects, the letter is suspected to have been used as cover-up allowing dozens of containers of steel to be imported without verification.
LOOKING for the office of Jaya Arya Kemuning was like searching for a needle in a haystack. In a letter written to the Tanjung Priok's Customs Office for Type-A Goods on February 26, the company’s address was the APL Tower, 25th floor, unit 7. But when Tempo went there on March 11, the address led to Infinity Premier Partners, a virtual office provider. It is a working space divided into several rooms using frosted glass walls. “Other businesses use it as a working space or co-working space,” said a building security officer.
The company, founded in 2012, has fallen into the spotlight of the finance ministry’s directorate-general of customs. It started with the letter sent to the Tanjung Priok customs office in February. Signed by Jaya Arya Kemuning Director Liwa Supriyanti, the document contained a request for cancellation of BCF 1.5 for the 238 rolls of galvanized steel sheets imported by the company.
BCF 1.5 is the status code for unclaimed imported goods. This status is given to imported goods that are not claimed by the recipients for more than 30 days. The importer must submit a request for cancellation status in order to get the goods out of the storage facility, which was what happened to the imported steel belonging to Jaya Arya Kemuning.
Since the steels were unloaded from the FLC Happiness cargo ship in Priok on November 11, 2020, no one had taken care of the shipment documents. For months, the cargo had been sitting there at Tanjung Priok’s Temporary Storage Area. “Jaya Arya Kemuning did not submit the customs documents for the containers,” said Customs and Excise Directorate-General’s Director of International and Interagency Customs, R. Syarif Hidayat, on Friday, March 12.
Jaya Arya’s unclaimed imported steel attracted the attention of customs authorities. The thing is, the 238 galvanized steel rolls are not the company’s only imported goods with BCF 1.5 status. There are at least 95 other containers of numerous types of imported steel that had been declared as unclaimed goods since October 2020. After some tracing, it was revealed that Jaya Arya never filed for import notification when the containers and steel coils arrived.
An official of the customs directorate-general said that the containers attracted the attention of officers. After researching the documents, it was discovered that Jaya Arya has a letter of exemption bearing the letterhead of the trade ministry’s directorate-general of foreign trade. The letter, issued May 26, 2020, stated that the company is allowed to engage in import activities without import approval and without obligation for verification. Indrasari Wisnu Wardhana, who was the Director-General of Foreign Trade at the time, signed the letter.
Trade Minister’s Regulation No. 3/2020 on the import provisions of iron and steel, alloy steel and its derivative products indeed stated that there are exemptions for steel products that are imported for government institutions. An exception may also be granted to imports of steel for construction. To be eligible for that exemption, importers must obtain a letter of explanation from the director-general of foreign trade.
The explanation letter owned by Jaya Arya stated that the company imported iron and steel for the Solo-Kertosono toll road and bridge construction projects in Central Java. The letter also included information about existing procurement cooperation between Jaya Arya and Waskita Karya since December 5, 2016.
This is where customs officials began to have suspicions. The toll road, which is part of the national strategic project for the Trans Java toll road, already finished construction at the end of 2018. So how come the directorate-general of foreign trade still issued a letter exempting Jaya Arya Kemuning from the import rule in mid-2020?
Stacks of shipping containers at the Jakarta International Container Terminal (JICT) in Tanjung Priok Port, North Jakarta, July 2018. Tempo/Tony Hartawan
According to Syarif Hidayat, his office contacted the foreign trade directorate-general to confirm the explanation letter. They sent three letters each in October, November, and December last year. “To this day, there has been no answer from the directorate-general of foreign affairs,” said Syarif.
Tempo’s efforts to seek clarification from the trade ministry failed to get a definite answer. Trade Ministry Secretary-General, Suhanto, said that a request for confirmation should be addressed to the foreign trade directorate-general directly. “Or to Pak Wisnu, who knows more,” said Suhanto. The Foreign Trade Director-General Didi Sumedi, has not responded to Tempo’s request for an interview since Thursday, March 11.
Meanwhile, Indrasari Wisnu Wardhana, who is currently serving at the trade ministry as expert staff for business climate and inter-institutional relations, said that the rules for exempting import provisions and the criteria for obtaining them are regulated in a trade minister’s regulation.
And yet, he was unable to confirm the veracity of the exemption letter, which number and document copy were also sent by Tempo. “I will ask my friends at the directorate-general of foreign affairs to check with the archived files there,” said Wisnu on March 12.
According to him, administrative letters and explanations for implementing regulations are not included in the licensing system. However, until Saturday, March 13, he still did not provide further clarification and was not responding to Tempo’s phone calls.
THE confusions regarding the mysterious letter exempting steel imports uncovered the existence of similar documents obtained by a number of other companies. At least five importers: Duta Sari Sejahtera, Intisumber Bajasakti, Prasasti Metal Utama, Bangun Era Sejahtera, and Perwira Adhitama Sejati, were found to have the same ‘magic letter’. The letters are also issued sequentially on May 26, 2020, the same date printed on the piece of paper that Jaya Arya Kemuning has.
The five companies are also engaged in the same business: importing iron and steel for infrastructure development. The differences are in the project details and the contractors and builders.
The letter exempting the provision for iron and steel imports owned by Duta Sari Sejahtera, for example, states that the company is collaborating with Wijaya Karya to procure goods for the constructions of the Batang-Semarang bridges and toll road in Central Java. The agreement was signed on December 15, 2016.
The procurement agreement for the project worked on by Wijaya Karya was also written in the letters for Perwira Adhitama Sejati and Prasasti Metal Utama, signed on November 2, 2016 and February 1, 2017, respectively. The iron and steel imported by Perwira Adhitama were said to be used for the construction of “Elevated Road Segment I for the Construction of the Makassar Metropolitan National Road” in South Sulawesi. As for Prasasti, the imported goods were for the constructions of a box culvert flood controller and the Kaligawe Bridge in Semarang.
Meanwhile, the letter to Intisumber Bajasakti stated that the imported iron and steel would be used for the construction of the Muara Karang natural gas pipeline in Bekasi, West Java, and Gresem in Semarang, a project carried out by Pertamina Gas. Both companies are said to have signed the agreement on November 14, 2016. Bangun Era Sejahtera’s imports were made on behalf of a collaboration with Nindya Karya, for the development of the Ploso-Simbolo Pacitan road and bridge in East Java, signed on November 7, 2016.
The Batang-Semarang toll road construction project in Kandeman, Batang Regency, Central Java, March 2017. Antara/Harviyan Perdana Putra
Just like the Jaya Arya Kemuning case, the aforementioned projects constructions were found to have been completed months ago. The Batang-Semarang toll road, for example, was launched by President Joko Widodo on December 2, 2018. “There are suspicions that the imported iron and steel was not used for the projects that the letter states,” said a source with knowledge of document tracing by customs authority.
The directorate-general of customs, the source said, has an interest in this issue, since restricting iron and steel imports is a policy made to protect local industries. Since 2016, the imports value of this sector has continued to increase. The flood of imported goods is blamed to be the culprit behind the price war that had decelerated the utilization of domestic steel mills. In 2019, iron and steel import was one of the biggest contributors to the trade deficit, which resulted in higher current account deficit.
Tempo requested confirmation of a number of cooperation agreements to Waskita Karya, Wijaya Karya, and Nindya Karya. On Sunday, March 14, Nindya Karya Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Haedar Karim said that Ninda Karya’s partner for steel pile procurement in the project of Grindulu which connected Ploso and Sirnoboyo in Pacitan is Steel Pipe Industry of Indonesia (Spindo). In the same project, Haedar said, the supplier of spun piles is Wijaya Karya, while the supplier of girder steel is Ashimix Precast Indonesia. “There is no list of selected partners, Bangun Era Sejahtera,” he said.
Waskita Karya's Corporate Secretary Ratna Ningrum said she would find the information. "Let me find out first," said Ratna on March 12. Meanwhile, Wijaya Karya's Corporate Secretary Mahendra Vijaya did not answer the phone calls.
Tempo also sent interview requests to the importers, to seek clarification about the exemption letter found by the customs. As of Saturday, March 13, there have been no replies. Our efforts to seek confirmation from several company managers by phone were futile as well.
Customs officials suspect the existence of a network of importers hiding behind the exemption letter, given the backgrounds of the companies that have the ‘magic letters’.
Their suspicion is not without bases. When Tempo traced the documents of importers and company establishments, there were similar indications. A number of documents of Duta Sari Sejahtera, for example, showed that the office address is Jalan Agung Niaga V Blog G.6 No. 28. The exact same address is also written as the home of Budi Hartono Linardi, who in the deed of Jaya Arya Kemuning was listed as shareholder and director of the company.
A letter from the Directorate General of Foreign Trade dated May 26, 2020, regarding an exception for import authorization of steel by Jaya Arya Kemuning. Special Doc.
Meanwhile, the deed of establishment of Duta Sari Sejahtera uses Jalan Gatot Subroto Km. 5 No. 67, Keroncong, Jatiuwung in Tangerang City, Banten, as the address. Building number 68 on the same road is listed as the address of Bangun Era Sejahtera.
To Tempo, a steel businessman said that Budi Hartono Linardi is an entrepreneur who has been working in the trade sector for a long time. With years of engaging in logistics and cargo businesses, Budi is known for his skills of handling various problems faced by importers, especially customs issues.
It was Budi’s name that was written as the representative of Jaya Arya Kemuning when the company was in two disputes with the directorate-general of customs at the Tax Court in 2018. The cases were brought to the Supreme Court in 2019, where Jaya Arya’s appeals for case reviews were rejected.
Budi’s name was no longer listed as shareholder and director of the company when the latest changes were made to the deed of the company in September 2020. A year earlier, there was a massive share transfer in Jaya Arya, with the entry of Liwa Supriyanti as the majority shareholder as well as CEO.
Tempo tried to contact Budi Hartono by calling several numbers, including one with a Hong Kong area code. But none of the calls and text messages were replied. One of his employees at Meraseti Group declined to deliver a message, saying that he had not come to the office for a month. Tempo’s source said that Budi often changes phone numbers.
A number of questions Tempo sent to Liwa Supriyanti also went unanswered. The woman who is also director of Gunung Inti Sempurna said that the company had acquired Jaya Arya. “In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the economy should be supported, imports should not be hindered. There is no state loss. That is what we are concerned about,” said Liwa in a text message on March 12.
She confirmed that her company had sent a letter requesting the cancellation of BCF 1.5 status for the 238 rolls of galvanized steel sheet in February. In its letter, Jaya Arya gave a power of attorney to the customs service provider, Aberu Cahaya Semesta.
The cancellation of this status could protract the situation. While the powerful letter case remains a mystery, the Jakarta Tanjung Priok’s Customs Main Office for Type-A Goods released a letter approving the release of goods on March 3. Jaya Arya’s imported steel was moved to the Bonded Logistics Center of Top Jaya Antariksa Electronics in Cakung, East Jakarta.
The Tanjung Priok customs office was reluctant to comment on the chronology of the release of Jaya Arya’s imported steel. “The (request) for interview is being handled by the directorate of international and interagency customs, the head office,” said Max Franky Karel Rori, Chief of Compliance Guidance and Information Services, on Friday, March 12.