Monsanto bribes case - fallout in Indonesia (18/5/2005)

Apparently, doing business with Monsanto can irreparably damage your reputation!

Court to hear civil action against 'AWSJ'
The Jakarta Post, May 18 2005

Jakarta - The Central Jakarta District Court will start hearing on Wednesday a civil lawsuit filed by American lobbyist Harvey Goldstein against The Asian Wall Street Journal for an article that described his firm's involvement in a US$50,000 cash payment to a former Indonesian minister.

In a document filed with the court, Goldstein's attorneys claimed that his two companies, Harvest International Indonesia and Harvest International Inc., had lost clients due to an April 5, 2005 front-page article, titled "Seedy Indonesia Saga: Monsanto Pays to Settle Allegations of Bribery."

"All the allegations made against the plaintiffs as implied by the article are completely false and baseless," the document, prepared by the law firm of Sentot and Associates, says. "The article has caused irreparable harm to the plaintiffs' business and reputation."

The lawsuit mentions AWSJ journalists Peter Fritsch, Timothy Mapes, I Made Sentana, Jay Solomon and Rini Hindriyati, and Dow Jones, which owns the newspaper through Dow Jones Asia, as the parties responsible. Goldstein is demanding $50 million in damages.

The 2,803-word article, written by Fritsch and Mapes, chronicles in detail an alleged cash transfer by Monsanto to former environment minister Nabiel Makarim, which the article said was facilitated by Michael Villarreal, an American ex-employee of Harvest International Indonesia. Villarreal has made local media headlines for his marriage to Indonesian celebrity, Sophia Latjuba.

The article said that Villarreal, with the knowledge of Goldstein, handed over the cash in $100 bills personally to Makarim on Feb. 5, 2002, in an effort to persuade him to modify a rule to allow genetically modified cotton to be grown in Indonesia.

On Jan 6, Monsanto announced that it had agreed to pay a $1.5 million penalty as part of an agreement with the United States Department of Justice and the Securities Exchange Commission to settle charges of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act through its Indonesian subsidiaries, PT Monagro Kimia and PT Branita Sandhini.

The settlement acknowledged that the company had paid over $700,000 in bribes between 1997 and 2002, among them the $50,000 paid to a "senior environmental official" through a "Jakarta-based investment consulting firm."

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) is investigating the case.

Aside from the $50 million in indemnity, Goldstein, whose company has been named by the KPK as the firm hired by Monsanto, is also seeking the retraction of the article and an apology from the newspaper to be run on its front page for a month.

He also asks the daily to refrain itself from using any material related to Harvest International obtained from former and current employees, former and current clients, and government officials, as they were "proprietary" to the companies.

A lawyer representing the accused, Todung Mulya Lubis, said the suit filed against his clients was "reckless" and a "threat to the freedom of the press".

He also said that three of the individuals named in the lawsuit, Sentana, Solomon and Rini, were not involved in writing the article.

None of the other individuals mentioned in the article, including Nabiel, has sued the newspaper.


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