The Omnipresent Tycoon?

You have to wonder about the industriousness of the media magnate and all-round tycoon, James Riady of the Lippo Group.

If the comments accompanying the story below in the Asia Sentinel are correct, JR seems to have a finger in every pie.

How does a man become so influential and omnipresent? When Unspun grows up Unspun wants to be like him, or if not, at least have the kind of money he has.

Indonesia to join the Smart Card Set

Written by Our Correspondent    Friday, 04 September 2009

Everything you ever wanted to know about everybody

Indonesia appears about to become the latest country in Asia to adopt computer chip-laden national identity cards making voluminous amounts of personal identification available to government officials.

Indonesia’s proposed card, which is to begin field trials before the end of the year, will feature 37 items of personal information including birth certificate, marital status, blood type, parents’ name and employment, physical and/or mental disabilities and fingerprints of all fingers plus a photo. Officials envision that it will be used to identify voters, putting to rest problems of multiple voting that have dogged Indonesian elections.
Field trials can serve as a warning of another sort for prospective vendors. There is little Indonesian officials like better than a competition between companies to line up with their hands out, palms up.

rest of story here

So far so boring. The Asia Sentinel, that Unspun understands to be an online news portal staffed by some veteran journalists (see posting here) decides to carry a fairly local story about ID cards. Boring but no big deal. Then things take on a different hue when you look at the comments (that Unspun hopes haven’t been deleted by the time you read this):


Unspun has no idea who the commentators are, but given it was a journalist that brought the article and comments to Unspun‘s attention it looks like a lot of beans are being spilled because of carping between journalists, but it’s all interesting to know how business and media work all the same.

8 thoughts on “The Omnipresent Tycoon?

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  1. I am guessing that you are not surprised, right?

    Not that much different from Globe Asia or Campus Asia when they rank Riady linked businesses and education facilities. UPH is, for example, the best private university in Indonesia and the second best university overall using the Campus Asia ranking variables which are designed to see UPH move up the list.

    I have gotta say, it does not surprise me 😀


  2. I am the editor of the Asia Sentinel. If you will look at our story, we have posted a response to these two letters. If you read our story through, you will see that it dwelt on personal privacy issues around electronic identity cards not just in Indonesia but across Asia. We had no idea that any of the Riady interests were involved in seeking a contract to supply cards in Indonesia. I am personally mystified by these letters and I am outraged by any threat to our integrity.


  3. @John: Thanks for clarifying Asia Sentinel’s position. What about “Glenn Butte’s” allegation that “Asia Sentinel is financially backed by the Riadys” – any truth in that?


  4. This is written by the man who wants to run our national ID card project

    “I am telling you, our children cannot study psychology in secular schools, because there are fundamental differences between such schools and non-secular schools.

    Secular schools don’t have morality concepts. They don’t have concepts of miracles, prayer and faith. They are at home with secular practices, such as smoking, gambling, pornography and use of abusive language.

    In secular schools, children are being taught that their ancestors came from apes. This means they don’t have a purpose in life. Only when you know that you come from God will you have a purpose in life.

    But if you believe that you come from monkeys, what values do you have? Nothing. You go nowhere because you don’t know who you really are.

    Because you come from monkeys, your whole life is futile; monkeys don’t go anywhere. ”
    -James Riady, Campus Asia, 2009


  5. In answer to your question, Asia Sentinel is owned and operated solely by its owners and founders and funded almost entirely by them. You can find their identities on our About Us page. You will notice the little piggy bank on the facepage, asking donations. We have put up 95 percent of the money and we have received perhaps 5 percent additional donations from people who will remain anonymous because of confidentiality agreements but who believe in quality regional journalism. One of our founders has since become an editor at the Jakarta Globe. We have been pursuing a content-sharing agreement with the Globe for several months and have exchanged copy on several occasions. The agreement has not been completed although we hope it will be. Content-sharing agreements are not unique. We had a content-sharing agreement with the International Herald Tribune for more than two years until the NYT took over its site. We have been approached by other news organizations to share content and we will probably do so. Neither the Globe nor the Riadys nor Lippo nor any of our content-sharing partners has had or has any role in our editorial decisions. We will remain that way. If the case of Liskula Cohen vs Skanks in NYC manages to escape the New York courts and make its way to Asia, in which Google was forced to divulge the name of Ms. Cohen’s anonymous Internet tormentors, we will be happy seek the identify of the two indidviduals who wrote the comments above under assumed names to pursue legal action for damage to our professional reputations and that of the Asia Sentinel. These comments are clearly defamatory.


  6. One final disclosure note which I forgot to mention: I was hired as a writing coach and mentor during the Globe’s startup period. The relationship was professional and separate from my role as AS’s editor.


  7. @ John…

    Why wait for the Skanks decision to wind its way here? Why not test the waters and have the precedent set in this part of the world to?

    I am guessing whoever represents you could cite the Liskula Cohen case as a current interpretation of defamation in an online environment. It appears that Google (and I hear Yahoo generally operates a similar policy) will divulge an identity if they are so ordered to do so by a court.

    @ Unspun…

    Been an interesting post. I have learned a lot more than I think I needed to know about the AS, at least seeing I am only a reader.


  8. La Trobe laurels ignore donor’s criminal record
    Date: 26/12/2009
    The Age

    LA TROBE University has awarded an honorary doctorate to a controversial Indonesian tycoon convicted for making illegal donations to support former US president Bill Clinton’s political campaigns.
    The university bestowed the honorary doctorate of letters on James Riady in September 2007 after he made donations to the university and its overseas partners totalling $800,000.

    La Trobe’s decision has been criticised by the National Tertiary Education Union.

    “Honorary degrees are for people who have made outstanding contributions. They should not be for sale to the biggest donor, particularly those with questionable backgrounds or convictions,” said the union’s La Trobe branch president, Virginia Mansel-Lees.

    Mr Riady has also pledged $3.5 million to a scientific facility at La Trobe. The university has yet to receive that money, but a spokesman said a $500,000 instalment was expected next month.

    Mr Riady has used La Trobe’s academic honour to rebuild his image over the past two years following his criminal conviction and record $US8.6 million fine for violating America’s campaign finance laws in the 1990s.

    A La Trobe spokesman said Mr Riady’s academic honours recognised his “considerable support for education and his philanthropic activities”. His financial contributions had nothing to do with the doctorate.

    As the head of Indonesia’s powerful Lippo Group of banking and property companies, Mr Riady has built several schools and a university in South-East Asia in recent years.

    A controversial figure and publisher of the Jakarta Globe newspaper, Mr Riady has been in the news in Indonesia recently after one of his senior media executives, Billy Sindoro, was filmed last year handing bribes to officials of Indonesia’s anti-monopoly agency, the KPPU. Sindoro was later found guilty of corruption.

    In the 1990s, Mr Riady was a key figure in one of the biggest scandals of Mr Clinton’s presidency, when it emerged his companies had given more than $US1 million to Democratic Party and Clinton campaign funds in breach of US laws that ban foreign political donations.

    Mr Riady pleaded guilty in 2001 to a felony charge and a further 86 misdemeanour charges associated with the donations made by his company Lippo Bank, according to the US Justice Department.

    Mr Riady and Lippo Bank paid a $US8.61 million fine after investigators found he was reimbursing Democrat donors with foreign funds.

    A close friend since Mr Clinton’s term as Arkansas governor in the 1980s, Mr Riady made 20 visits to the White House during the Clinton presidency.

    John Huang, a friend of Mr Riady’s and a former employee of Lippo Bank, was also convicted of violating the US campaign finance laws by raising money for the Democrats through shell companies reimbursed with funds from Lippo’s Jakarta headquarters.

    Mr Huang entered the White House more than 70 times during the Clinton presidency and in 1993 was appointed assistant deputy secretary of the US Commerce Department.

    Mr Clinton came under fierce attack for his dealings with Mr Riady and Mr Huang, particularly as concerns emerged about their alleged links to China.

    A 1998 unclassified final draft of a report by a US Senate committee found Mr Riady and his father, billionaire businessman Mochtar Riady, had “had a long-term relationship with a Chinese intelligence agency”.

    Mr Riady rejected the Senate committee’s finding. Mr Huang denied any improper activity in his dealings with the Clintons.

    Asked if La Trobe was aware of Mr Riady’s conviction for violating US campaign finance laws, the university’s spokesman said La Trobe was “aware of his background”.


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