Star Tribune Expose Omits Late Minnesotan’s DFL Connections
American Experiment posted this headline on September 12: Prominent DFL Donor, Key Figure in Corruption Scandal Commits Suicide in L.A.
The piece focused on the abrupt rise and fall of Johannes Marliem, a mysterious young Indonesian millionaire who made Minnesota his home, even as authorities closed in on him in a widening political corruption probe in Jakarta.
The Star Tribune picked up on the story in an expose that quickly became the most read story on the paper’s website Friday afternoon.
Johannes Marliem, a young globe-trotting executive with a house on Lake Minnetonka, wasn’t shy about cutting big checks. In 2014, he gave the Como Friends nonprofit $66,000 to support orangutan conservation and was Minnesota’s largest donor to President Obama’s second inauguration.
But federal authorities say Marliem made his biggest contributions in the shadows, drawing international suspicion as a player in a massive bribery scheme believed to extend to some of the highest levels of power in Indonesia.
To be sure, the Star Tribune advanced the narrative with tantalizing details from court files, including a $135,000 watch allegedly given to the speaker of Indonesia’s parliament.
The FBI reviewed bank records that noted $13 million in E-KTP contract payments transferred to Marliem’s personal checking account between July 2011 and March 2014. Holden wrote that the money went toward Marliem’s lakeside home, and other flashy expenses like a $2.6 million Bugatti sports car, $1.6 million in watches and $800,000 for “private jet rentals.” Authorities are also seeking to seize two Hermes brand handbags worth up to $600,000, claiming that the bags and other goods were bought using illicit funds.
The paper also found Marliem’s donations to orangutans at the Como Park Zoo worth highlighting. But the expose never touched his more lavish—and controversial—spending on DFL politics. Yet Marliem’s Tumblr account still features a selfie with Walter Mondale, while his website displays a photograph of him shaking hands with President Obama.
In fact, Marliem donated some $150,000 to the state DFL and allied WIN Minnesota Political Action Fund from 2013 to 2016. He maxed out with a $2,700 donation to Sen. Amy Klobuchar in the 2016 election cycle.
In addition, Marliem contributed $225,000 to President Obama’s inauguration, along with raising some $170,000 for Obama’s reelection campaign with his wife. A Democratic National Committee spokesman later said the DNC would not have accepted Marliem’s money if it had been aware of his background.
Yet the Minnesota DFL ignored calls to return Marliem’s cash from good government watchdog David Schultz, a nationally known Hamline University professor.
“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.
Several Star Tribune readers apparently found Marliem’s Minnesota political connections more relevant than the paper’s editors. But after a few readers expressed their opinions online, the Star Tribune abruptly shut down the comments section associated with the story. The comments remain closed as of this writing.