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A prominent DFL donor and key witness in an unfolding Indonesian corruption scandal committed suicide last month after a nine-hour standoff with a SWAT team in Los Angeles.
Johannes Marliem, a 32-year-old Minnesota businessman and philanthropist, shot himself in the early morning hours of August 10 in his rented home in the Beverly Grove neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Marliem rose to prominence in Minnesota in 2013 with political donations to the Democratic Party and DFL causes that ultimately totaled more than $500,000. A native Indonesian, Marliem studied at the University of Minnesota, founding a Minneapolis marketing firm associated with an Indonesian biometric technology company.
His quick rise through the ranks of Democratic donors marked an abrupt reversal of fortune. Marliem’s sizable political contributions and purchase of a $2 million mansion on Lake Minnetonka in 2012 came just two years after he was convicted of theft by swindle in Hennepin County Court and lost his Maplewood town home to foreclosure.
Marliem’s political donations included $225,000 to President Obama’s second inauguration. It was the largest individual inaugural contribution from Minnesota, more than twice the $100,000 given by DFL mega-donor Alida Rockefeller Messinger.
Marliem and his wife Maichie Thor also raised a combined $170,000 for Obama’s reelection campaign, in addition to $10,000 in personal contributions. The late Indonesian tech entrepreneur’s website still features photos of Marliem shaking hands with the former president alongside wife Michelle.
But the Star Tribune’s revelation of Marliem’s 2010 theft by swindle conviction for bad checks led a Democratic National Committee spokesman to tell the paper “this contribution would not have been accepted by the (Obama Victory Fund) if these facts had been known at the time.”
In addition, more than $150,000 of Marliem’s political donations from 2013 to 2016 went to the state DFL party ($125,500) and WIN Minnesota Political Action Fund ($25,000).
At the time, Hamline University professor and national expert on campaign finance David Schultz, criticized the DFL for not returning Marliem’s contributions.
“These large amounts create an appearance that a rich foreign national (although with a green card) is seeking improper influence in Minnesota politics or that he is seeking special favors or expects some type of return on his donations,” Schultz told Watchdog Minnesota in 2014.
In the 2016 election cycle, Marliem and his wife Thor contributed a combined $17,300 to Democrats, including $8,100 to Hillary Clinton, $5,500 to the DFL and $2,700 to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
Marliem also donated at least $75,000 to St. Paul’s Como Park Zoo to aid in preservation of the endangered Indonesian orangutan.
But his donations–both political and charitable–tapered off as Marliem became enmeshed in the corruption investigation over Indonesia’s electronic national identify card program (e-KTP).
He was widely reported in Indonesian media to be a central figure in the political and financial scandal in the Southeast Asian nation. In recent testimony before the Indonesian anti-corruption commission, it is alleged that Marliem handed off $200,000 to a figure in the case on an escalator in the Grand Indonesia shopping mall in Jakarta in 2011.
Marliem claimed to have audio recordings of private meetings concerning the e-KTP project, but personally denied wrongdoing. The Jakarta Post editorialized on Marliem’s importance to the corruption probe days after his death.
“KPK investigators questioned Johannes in Singapore in February and in the United States in July and named him about 25 times in their indictment against former Home Ministry officials Irman and Sugiharto for playing a role in the corruption case. Johannes denied having paid bribes or having any knowledge of acts of bribery in the case, which is believed to have caused Rp 2.3 trillion (US$172.29 million) in state losses,” according to the paper’s August 15, 2017 editorial.
At the end of July, Marliem was contacted by Indonesia’s witness protection agency, but he reportedly declined assistance. FBI agents reportedly searched his Los Angeles home the day before his confrontation with LAPD. More than 100 police and emergency vehicles swarmed Marliem’s residence, forcing the neighborhood to be evacuated before police found his body after midnight.