Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Indonesian charges cooked up, says jailed Australian businessman

FACING charges of embezzlement, deception and theft after a business deal turned sour, 63-year-old New South Wales man Dennis Connell could spend the next five years in an Indonesian prison.

Connell, who has lived in Indonesia for 15 years, says the case is a warning sign to all Australians with business interests in Indonesia.

''I got caught like a spider in a web,'' he says from his cell at Jakarta's Cipinang prison. ''Contracts here are not worth the paper they are printed on.''

In March 2009, Connell signed a deal to sell 75 per cent of his mining services company PT Indo Asia Resources (PT IAR) to Burhanuddin Bur Maras, a wealthy Indonesian businessman and former politician for $US2.475 million.

Connell says 22 months later he still hadn't received a cent.

''I was getting to the end of my tether and I said to him, 'look I need the money','' he says.
A settlement deal reached in January 2011 returned full control of PT IAR to Connell, and 25 shares in an offshore entity bought under PT IAR transferred to Maras.

Golden Arrow Resources (GAR), the offshore entity in question, controls the Masuparia gold concession in Kalimantan through a local contractor.

In a technicality that he says is watertight legally but has led to the criminal charges in the Indonesian courts, Connell sold 49,975 authorised, but yet-to-be issued shares in GAR for $US5 million after the settlement. Connell alleges he did not make any money from this sale.

Maras' ownership in the offshore entity and its lucrative local contractor - which he believed was 100 per cent post-settlement - was massively diluted as a result. ''In other words he is a thief,'' the Sumatran businessman said, referring to Connell as a ''crying crocodile''.

In the knotty legal case that has ensued, Connell says no criminal laws have been broken and the case, if any, should be tried under British law as it involves the sale of a British Virgin Islands company.

The Australian national also alleges that Maras paid the Attorney-General's Office (AGO) up to $350,000 in bribes to cook up the charges - and the detective working on the case a new Mercedes-Benz.

A report by the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency (FITRA) last week described the AGO as Indonesia's most corrupt institution.

A handful of Connell's expatriate mates who gathered at South Jakarta District Court for the second hearing on Monday were quick to agree.

''The case is an orchestrated litany of lies and deceit. This is not a hearing of law, just one of vengeance,'' said New Zealand national Greg Smith, also in the resources industry. ''Dennis has been set up good and proper,'' he said.

Despite diplomatic overtures about boosting trade ties between the neighbouring countries, two recent cases have highlighted the uncertainty of investing in Indonesia's mining sector.

In the past week the Brisbane-based Intrepid Mining appears to have been squeezed out of a lucrative gold and copper reserve in East Java by its local Indonesian partner, PT IMN.

In May, British company Churchill Mining filed for international arbitration after its permits were revoked by a local government official in Kalimantan and returned to the Nusantara Group, run by a wealthy businessman and politician.

Connell's trial is expected to run until early September. The Age Melbourne

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