A mysterious lobbyist known as “Mother Princess” is the Keyser Söze of Indonesian politics

October 28, 2013
October 28, 2013

Who is Bunda Putri?

The lobbyist with the pseudonym that means “Mother Princess” has taken center stage in an Indonesian corruption scandal involving sex, bribes, and beef import quotas. Some politicians admit that they know her, but won’t reveal her true identity. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s staff knows who she is, but insists they’ve never met. And just like Keyser Söze, the legendary crime boss of “The Usual Suspects,” her nebulous identity is fueling rumors about her role in the underbelly of Indonesian politics.

“Nobody knows Bunda Putri,” said Indonesia president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (pictured above), who was accused of consulting with Bunda Putri over a cabinet reshuffle. “One thousand percent, no one knows.” The president’s adviser subsequently said that someone actually does know—an investigation had uncovered Bunda Putri’s identity—but that the president’s office had “absolutely no intention” of revealing it.

The scandal that transformed Bunda Putri into the subject of public fascination began way back in January, when an aide to the Prosperous Justice Party’s then-chairman Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq was discovered in a hotel room with a naked 19-year-old female student and a suitcase stuffed with 1 billion rupiah ($90,000). The PKS, as it is known, established its reputation as an anti-corruption Islamist party that wanted to ban short skirts and kissing in public; it’s an uneasy member of Yudhoyono’s coalition government.

Luthfi, who is accused of taking bribes in exchange for government beef import quotas, claimed during questioning by an anti-corruption commission that “Bunda Putri was close to Yudhoyono and frequently provided accurate inside information about developments in the cabinet,” according to the Jakarta Globe. Luthfi refused to reveal her identity and it’s unclear how she might be involved in the scandal.

As the inquiry has widened, more and more government officials have been asked the Bunda Putri question, though she has not been accused of any misdeeds in the beef corruption scandal.

“As a public official, I have posed many times in photos with members of the public. But for sure, I do not have knowledge about Bunda Putri, do not know who Bunda Putri is, and do not deal with her,” said cabinet secretary Dipo Alam.

Those who do admit knowing Bunda Putri—like PKS chief patron Hilmi Aminuddin—will admit only vague details about her actual identity. She was described by the Jakarta Post as “slim and attractive, with wavy hair and glasses.”

Hilmi told the court that he calls Bunda Putri by the name Non Saputri, and a woman by the same name is the wife of the agriculture ministry’s horticulture director-general, according to the Jakarta Post. An anti-corruption commission told the news site Tempo that it’s “gathering evidence, including unraveling who Bunda Putri is and her role in this case.” And yet some observers wonder if the obsession with “Mother Princess” is itself a diversionary tactic.

“This is being blown up in the media to divert the real issue, which is corruption in beef import management. The effort has worked. People’s attention is very much on Bunda Putri now,” ruling Democratic Party deputy secretary-general Ramadhan Pohan told the Post. He claims he “does not know Bunda Putri and has no connection with her.”

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